Article

The origin of introns and their role in eukaryogenesis: a compromise solution to the introns-early versus introns-late debate?

National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20894, USA.
Biology Direct (Impact Factor: 4.04). 02/2006; 1:22. DOI: 10.1186/1745-6150-1-22
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Ever since the discovery of 'genes in pieces' and mRNA splicing in eukaryotes, origin and evolution of spliceosomal introns have been considered within the conceptual framework of the 'introns early' versus 'introns late' debate. The 'introns early' hypothesis, which is closely linked to the so-called exon theory of gene evolution, posits that protein-coding genes were interrupted by numerous introns even at the earliest stages of life's evolution and that introns played a major role in the origin of proteins by facilitating recombination of sequences coding for small protein/peptide modules. Under this scenario, the absence of spliceosomal introns in prokaryotes is considered to be a result of "genome streamlining". The 'introns late' hypothesis counters that spliceosomal introns emerged only in eukaryotes, and moreover, have been inserted into protein-coding genes continuously throughout the evolution of eukaryotes. Beyond the formal dilemma, the more substantial side of this debate has to do with possible roles of introns in the evolution of eukaryotes.
I argue that several lines of evidence now suggest a coherent solution to the introns-early versus introns-late debate, and the emerging picture of intron evolution integrates aspects of both views although, formally, there seems to be no support for the original version of introns-early. Firstly, there is growing evidence that spliceosomal introns evolved from group II self-splicing introns which are present, usually, in small numbers, in many bacteria, and probably, moved into the evolving eukaryotic genome from the alpha-proteobacterial progenitor of the mitochondria. Secondly, the concept of a primordial pool of 'virus-like' genetic elements implies that self-splicing introns are among the most ancient genetic entities. Thirdly, reconstructions of the ancestral state of eukaryotic genes suggest that the last common ancestor of extant eukaryotes had an intron-rich genome. Thus, it appears that ancestors of spliceosomal introns, indeed, have existed since the earliest stages of life's evolution, in a formal agreement with the introns-early scenario. However, there is no evidence that these ancient introns ever became widespread before the emergence of eukaryotes, hence, the central tenet of introns-early, the role of introns in early evolution of proteins, has no support. However, the demonstration that numerous introns invaded eukaryotic genes at the outset of eukaryotic evolution and that subsequent intron gain has been limited in many eukaryotic lineages implicates introns as an ancestral feature of eukaryotic genomes and refutes radical versions of introns-late. Perhaps, most importantly, I argue that the intron invasion triggered other pivotal events of eukaryogenesis, including the emergence of the spliceosome, the nucleus, the linear chromosomes, the telomerase, and the ubiquitin signaling system. This concept of eukaryogenesis, in a sense, revives some tenets of the exon hypothesis, by assigning to introns crucial roles in eukaryotic evolutionary innovation.
The scenario of the origin and evolution of introns that is best compatible with the results of comparative genomics and theoretical considerations goes as follows: self-splicing introns since the earliest stages of life's evolution--numerous spliceosomal introns invading genes of the emerging eukaryote during eukaryogenesis--subsequent lineage-specific loss and gain of introns. The intron invasion, probably, spawned by the mitochondrial endosymbiont, might have critically contributed to the emergence of the principal features of the eukaryotic cell. This scenario combines aspects of the introns-early and introns-late views.
this article was reviewed by W. Ford Doolittle, James Darnell (nominated by W. Ford Doolittle), William Martin, and Anthony Poole.

0 Followers
 · 
154 Views
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Introns represent almost half of the human genome, yet their vast majority is eliminated from eukaryotic transcripts through RNA splicing. Nevertheless, they feature key elements and functions that deserve further interest. At the level of DNA, introns are genomic segments that can shelter independent transcription units for coding and non-coding RNAs which transcription may interfere with that of the host gene, and regulatory elements that can influence gene expression and splicing itself. From the RNA perspective, some introns can be subjected to alternative splicing. Intron retention appear to provide some plasticity to the nature of the protein produced, its distribution in a given cell type and timing of its translation. Intron retention may also serve as a switch to produce coding or non-coding RNAs from the same transcription unit. Conversely, splicing of introns has been directly implicated in the production of small regulatory RNAs. Hence, splicing of introns also appears to provide plasticity to the type of RNA produced from a genetic locus (coding, non-coding, short or long). We addressed these aspects to add to our understanding of mechanisms that control the fate of introns and could be instrumental in regulating genomic output and hence cell fate.
    International Journal of Molecular Sciences 03/2015; 16(3):4429-4452. DOI:10.3390/ijms16034429 · 2.34 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Present in the genomes of bacteria and eukaryotic organelles, group II introns are an ancient class of ribozymes and retroelements that are believed to have been the ancestors of nuclear pre-mRNA introns. Despite long-standing speculation, there is limited understanding about the actual pathway by which group II introns evolved into eukaryotic introns. In this review, we focus on the evolution of group II introns themselves. We describe the different forms of group II introns known to exist in nature and then address how these forms may have evolved to give rise to spliceosomal introns and other genetic elements. Finally, we summarize the structural and biochemical parallels between group II introns and the spliceosome, including recent data that strongly support their hypothesized evolutionary relationship.
    Mobile DNA 04/2015; 6. DOI:10.1186/s13100-015-0037-5 · 2.43 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Viruses and other selfish genetic elements are dominant entities in the biosphere, with respect to both physical abundance and genetic diversity. Various selfish elements parasitize on all cellular life forms. The relative abundances of different classes of viruses are dramatically different between prokaryotes and eukaryotes. In prokaryotes, the great majority of viruses possess double-stranded (ds) DNA genomes, with a substantial minority of single-stranded (ss) DNA viruses and only limited presence of RNA viruses. In contrast, in eukaryotes, RNA viruses account for the majority of the virome diversity although ssDNA and dsDNA viruses are common as well. Phylogenomic analysis yields tangible clues for the origins of major classes of eukaryotic viruses and in particular their likely roots in prokaryotes. Specifically, the ancestral genome of positive-strand RNA viruses of eukaryotes might have been assembled de novo from genes derived from prokaryotic retroelements and bacteria although a primordial origin of this class of viruses cannot be ruled out. Different groups of double-stranded RNA viruses derive either from dsRNA bacteriophages or from positive-strand RNA viruses. The eukaryotic ssDNA viruses apparently evolved via a fusion of genes from prokaryotic rolling circle-replicating plasmids and positive-strand RNA viruses. Different families of eukaryotic dsDNA viruses appear to have originated from specific groups of bacteriophages on at least two independent occasions. Polintons, the largest known eukaryotic transposons, predicted to also form virus particles, most likely, were the evolutionary intermediates between bacterial tectiviruses and several groups of eukaryotic dsDNA viruses including the proposed order "Megavirales" that unites diverse families of large and giant viruses. Strikingly, evolution of all classes of eukaryotic viruses appears to have involved fusion between structural and replicative gene modules derived from different sources along with additional acquisitions of diverse genes. Published by Elsevier Inc.
    Virology 03/2015; 157. DOI:10.1016/j.virol.2015.02.039 · 3.28 Impact Factor

Preview (2 Sources)

Download
3 Downloads
Available from

Similar Publications