Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 90–96

Covariation of Mitochondrial Genome Size with Gene Lengths: Evidence for Gene Length Reduction During Mitochondrial Evolution



Reduction of genome size and gene shortening have been observed in a number of parasitic and mutualistic intracellular symbionts. Reduction of coding capacity is also a unifying principle in the evolutionary history of mitochondria, but little is known about the evolution of gene length in mitochondria. The genes for cytochrome c oxidase subunits I–III, cytochrome b, and the large and small subunit rRNAs are, with very few exceptions, always found on the mitochondrial genome. These resident mitochondrial genes can therefore be used to test whether the reduction in gene lengths observed in a number of intracellular symbionts is also seen in mitochondria. Here we show that resident mitochondrial gene products are shorter than their corresponding counterparts in α-proteobacteria and, furthermore, that the reduction of mitochondrial genome size is correlated with a reduction in the length of the corresponding resident gene products. We show that relative genomic AT content, which has been identified as a factor influencing gene lengths in other systems, cannot explain gene length/genome size covariance observed in mitochondria. Our data are therefore in agreement with the idea that gene length evolves as a consequence of selection for smaller genomes, either to avoid accumulation of deleterious mutations or triggered by selection for a replication advantage.


Mitochondrial genome size Gene length Gene length reduction Mitochondrial evolution Gene length/genome size covariation 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of FribourgFribourgSwitzerland

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