, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 563-572

Fungal origin by horizontal transfer of a plant mitochondrial group I intron in the chimeric coxI gene of Peperomia

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Abstract

We present phylogenetic evidence that a group I intron in an angiosperm mitochondrial gene arose recently by horizontal transfer from a fungal donor species. A 1,716-bp fragment of the mitochondrial coxI gene from the angiosperm Peperomia polybotrya was amplified via the polymerase chain reaction and sequenced. Comparison to other coxI genes revealed a 966-bp group I intron, which, based on homology with the related yeast coxI intron aI4, potentially encodes a 279-amino-acid site-specific DNA endonuclease. This intron, which is believed to function as a ribozyme during its own splicing, is not present in any of 19 coxI genes examined from other diverse vascular plant species. Phylogenetic analysis of intron origin was carried out using three different tree-generating algorithms, and on a variety of nucleotide and amino acid data sets from the intron and its flanking exon sequences. These analyses show that the Peperomia coxI gene intron and exon sequences are of fundamentally different evolutionary origin. The Peperomia intron is more closely related to several fungal mitochondrial introns, two of which are located at identical positions in coxI, than to identically located coxI introns from the land plant Marchantia and the green alga Prototheca. Conversely, the exon sequence of this gene is, as expected, most closely related to other angiosperm coxI genes. These results, together with evidence suggestive of co-conversion of exonic markers immediately flanking the intron insertion site, lead us to conclude that the Peperomia coxI intron probably arose by horizontal transfer from a fungal donor, using the double-strand-break repair pathway. The donor species may have been one of the symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi that live in close obligate association with most plants.

Correspondence to: J.C. Vaughn