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Genome Biol Evol. 2017 Mar 1;9(3):468-473. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evx012.

Genomic and Transcriptomic Analysis Reveals Spliced Leader Trans-Splicing in Cryptomonads.

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Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA.


Spliced leader trans-splicing (SLTS) is a poorly understood mechanism that is found in a diversity of eukaryotic lineages. In SLTS, a short RNA sequence is added near the 5' ends of the transcripts of protein-coding genes by a modified spliceosomal reaction. Available data suggest that SLTS has evolved many times, and might be more likely to evolve in animals. That SLTS might be more likely to evolve in the context of the generally complex transcriptomes characteristic of animals suggests the possibility that SLTS functions in gene regulation or transcriptome diversification, however no general novel function for SLTS is known. Here, I report SLTS in a lineage of cellularly complex unicellular eukaryotes. Cryptomonads are a group of eukaryotic algae that acquired photosynthetic capacity by secondary endosymbiosis of a red alga, and that retain a reduced copy of the nucleus of the engulfed alga. I estimate that at least one-fifth of genes in the model cryptomonad Guillardia theta and its relative Hanusia phi undergo SLTS. I show that hundreds of genes in G. theta generate alternative transcripts by SLTS at alternative sites, however I find little evidence for alternative protein production by alternative SLTS splicing. Interestingly, I find no evidence for substantial operon structure in the G. theta genome, in contrast to previous findings in other lineages with SLTS. These results extend SLTS to another major group of eukaryotes, and heighten the mystery of the evolution of SLTS and its association with cellular and transcriptomic complexity.


gene expression; genome evolution; protist molecular biology

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