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Gene. 1989 Oct 15;82(1):91-114.

Group I introns as mobile genetic elements: facts and mechanistic speculations--a review.

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Unité de Génétique Moléculaire des Levures, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France.


Group I introns form a structural and functional group of introns with widespread but irregular distribution among very diverse organisms and genetic systems. Evidence is now accumulating that several group I introns are mobile genetic elements with properties similar to those originally described for the omega system of Saccharomyces cerevisiae: mobile group I introns encode sequence-specific double-strand (ds) endoDNases, which recognize and cleave intronless genes to insert a copy of the intron by a ds-break repair mechanism. This mechanism results in: the efficient propagation of group I introns into their cognate sites; their maintenance at the site against spontaneous loss; and, perhaps, their transposition to different sites. The spontaneous loss of group I introns occurs with low frequency by an RNA-mediated mechanism. This mechanism eliminates introns defective for mobility and/or for RNA splicing. Mechanisms of intron acquisition and intron loss must create an equilibrium, which explains the irregular distribution of group I introns in various genetic systems. Furthermore, the observed distribution also predicts that horizontal transfer of intron sequences must occur between unrelated species, using vectors yet to be discovered.

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