ABSTRACT: The genomes of most eukaryotes are composed of genes arranged on the chromosomes without regard to function, with each gene transcribed from a promoter at its 5' end. However, the genome of the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans contains numerous polycistronic clusters similar to bacterial operons in which the genes are transcribed sequentially from a single promoter at the 5' end of the cluster. The resulting polycistronic pre-mRNAs are processed into monocistronic mRNAs by conventional 3' end formation, cleavage, and polyadenylation, accompanied by trans-splicing with a specialized spliced leader (SL), SL2. To determine whether this mode of gene organization and expression, apparently unique among the animals, occurs in other species, we have investigated genes in a distantly related free-living rhabditid nematode in the genus Dolichorhabditis (strain CEW1). We have identified both SL1 and SL2 RNAs in this species. In addition, we have sequenced a Dolichorhabditis genomic region containing a gene cluster with all of the characteristics of the C. elegans operons. We show that the downstream gene is trans-spliced to SL2. We also present evidence that suggests that these two genes are also clustered in the C. elegans and Caenorhabditis briggsae genomes. Thus, it appears that the arrangement of genes in operons pre-dates the divergence of the genus Caenorhabditis from the other genera in the family Rhabditidae, and may be more widespread than is currently appreciated.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10/1997; 94(18):9751-6. · 9.68 Impact Factor