Evolution of ultrasmall spliceosomal introns in highly reduced nuclear genomes

Mol Biol Evol. 2009 Aug;26(8):1699-705. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msp081. Epub 2009 Apr 20.


Intron reduction and loss is a significant component of genome compaction in many eukaryotic lineages, including yeasts, microsporidia, and some nucleomorphs. Nucleomorphs are the extremely reduced relicts of algal endosymbiont nuclei found in two lineages, cryptomonads and chlorarachniophytes. In cryptomonads, introns are rare or even lost altogether. In contrast, the nucleomorph of the chlorarachniophyte Bigelowiella natans contains the smallest nuclear genome known but paradoxically also retained over 800 tiny spliceosomal introns, ranging from 18 to 21 nt in length. Because introns have not been described in any other chlorarachniophyte nucleomorph, we do not know when these introns were reduced or whether they have been lost in other lineages. To gain insight into the evolution of these unique introns, we sequenced more than 150 spliceosomal introns in the nucleomorph of the chlorarachniophyte Gymnochlora stellata and compared size distribution, sequence features, and patterns of gain/loss. To clarify the possible relationship between intron size and splicing efficiency, we also analyzed the outcome of 580 splicing events. Overall, these data indicate that the radical intron size reduction took place in the ancestor of all extant chlorarachniophytes and that although most introns have been retained through this reductive process, intron loss has also occurred. We also show that intron size is not static, and splicing is not determined strictly by size, but that size does play a strong role in splicing efficiency, likely as part of a combination of sequence features and size.

PMID:19380463 | DOI:10.1093/molbev/msp081