Trans-splicing group II introns in plant mitochondria: The complete set of cis-arranged homologs in ferns, fern allies, and a hornwort

a1 Allgemeine Botanik, Universität Ulm, D-89069 Ulm, Germany


The fragmentation of group II introns without concomitant loss of splicing competence is illustrated by extraordinary gene arrangements in plant mitochondrial genomes. The mitochondrial genes nad1, nad2, and nad5, all encoding subunits of the NADH dehydrogenase, require trans-splicing for functional assembly of their mRNAs in flowering plants. Tracing the origins of trans-splicing group II introns shows that they have evolved from formerly cis-arranged homologs whose descendants can still be identified in lineages of early branching land plants. In this contribution we present the full set of ancestor introns for all five conserved mitochondrial trans-splicing positions. These introns are strikingly small in the quillwort Isoetes lacustris, the continuous nad2 gene intron in this species representing the smallest (389 nt) land plant group II intron yet identified. cDNA analysis shows correct splicing of the introns in vivo and also identifies frequent RNA editing events in the flanking nad gene exons. Other representatives of the ancestral cis-arranged introns are identified in the fern Osmunda regalis, the horsetail Equisetum telmateia, and the hornwort Anthoceros crispulus. Only the now identified intron in Osmunda carries significant traces of a former maturase reading frame. The identification of a continuous homolog in Anthoceros demonstrates that intron invasion into the affected genes in some cases predated the split of vascular and nonvascular plants more than 400 million years ago. As an alternative to disruption after size increase, the respective introns can get secondarily lost in certain lineages.

(Received July 21 1998)
(Revised August 12 1998)
(Accepted September 1 1998)

Key Words: intron evolution; recombination; RNA editing.

c1 Reprint requests to: PD Dr. Volker Knoop, Allgemeine Botanik, Universität Ulm, 89069 Ulm, Germany; e-mail: volker.knoop@biologie.uni-ulm.de.