Short-term sequence evolution and vertical inheritance of the Naegleria twin-ribozyme group I intron
Background Ribosomal DNA of several species of the free-living Naegleria amoeba harbors an optional group I intron within the nuclear small subunit ribosomal RNA gene. The intron (Nae.S516) has a complex organization of two ribozyme domains (NaGIR1 and NaGIR2) and a homing endonuclease gene (NaHEG). NaGIR2 is responsible for intron excision, exon ligation, and full-length intron RNA circularization, reactions typical for nuclear group I intron ribozymes. NaGIR1, however, is essential for NaHEG expression by generating the 5' end of the homing endonuclease messenger RNA. Interestingly, this unusual class of ribozyme adds a lariat-cap at the mRNA. Results To elucidate the evolutionary history of the Nae.S516 twin-ribozyme introns we have analyzed 13 natural variants present in distinct Naegleria isolates. Structural variabilities were noted within both the ribozyme domains and provide strong comparative support to the intron secondary structure. One of the introns, present in N. martinezi NG872, contains hallmarks of a degenerated NaHEG. Phylogenetic analyses performed on separate data sets representing NaGIR1, NaGIR2, NaHEG, and ITS1-5.8S-ITS2 ribosomal DNA are consistent with an overall vertical inheritance pattern of the intron within the Naegleria genus. Conclusion The Nae.S516 twin-ribozyme intron was gained early in the Naegleria evolution with subsequent vertical inheritance. The intron was lost in the majority of isolates (70%), leaving a widespread but scattered distribution pattern. Why the apparent asexual Naegleria amoebae harbors active intron homing endonucleases, dependent on sexual reproduction for its function, remains a puzzle.
CitationBMC Evolutionary Biology 6(2006), article no 39 pp 12
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