Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Introns: A Mystery Renewed

14.12.2009
The sequences of nonsense DNA that interrupt genes could be far more important to the evolution of genomes than previously thought, according to a recent Science report by Indiana University Bloomington and University of New Hampshire biologists.

Their study of the model organism Daphnia pulex (water flea) is the first to demonstrate the colonization of a single lineage by "introns," as the interrupting sequences are known. The scientists say introns are inserted into the genome far more frequently than current models predict.

The scientists also found what appear to be "hot spots" for intron insertion -- areas of the genome where repeated insertions are more likely to occur. And surprisingly, the vast majority of intron DNA sequences the scientists examined were of unknown origin.

"The thinking has been that these insertion events are very rare because they always have bad effects," said postdoctoral fellow Abraham Tucker, a lead author of the Science paper.

Graduate student Wenli Li, whose participation in the research overlaps her dissertation work, was the paper's co-lead author. Li said she was particularly interested in the notion of hot spots that make it more likely for separate lineages of Daphnia to gain introns in the same place (or the same general area) within the water fleas' genomes. Four of the 23 different kinds of introns the scientists found were not unique with respect to position. If introns were always inserted in random places within genes, the scientists would have expected zero introns to have identical insertion points.

"The most intriguing finding for me is the multiple instances of parallel intron gains, because this means that Daphnia is in an active phase of intron proliferation," Li said. "This makes Daphnia an extraordinary system to study intron evolution. In addition, we believe our work facilitates a more accurate estimate of intron gain rates, and directly challenges the assumption that parallel intron gains are rare in many prior analyses."

Whether or not Daphnia is typical of eukaryotes with respect to intron gain (and loss), IU Bloomington evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch, the project's principal investigator, agreed that the discovery of parallelism will surprise his colleagues.

"Remarkably, we have found many cases of parallel intron gains at essentially the same sites in independent genotypes," Lynch said. "This strongly argues against the common assumption that when two species share introns at the same site, it is always due to inheritance from a common ancestor."

A unique and important aspect of the scientists' work is that they focused on one species (Daphnia pulex). Past studies have looked at a few introns shared by vastly different species. In doing so, geneticists have almost certainly missed the ephemeral appearance of new introns, and therefore would come to the wrong conclusions about how introns are gained, why they are lost, and how frequently either occurs.

That many introns are not acquired from a common ancestor but are the result of separate insertion events, the scientists say, means that the rates of intron gain in any species' lineage could be considerably higher than currently estimated.

Even if the rates of intron gain and loss of introns in Daphnia pulex are unlike those found in humans, sunflowers, and mushrooms, the Science report suggests geneticists and genome biologists take another look at introns, some of which could have been the result of hot spot insertion events in separate lines.

"The immediate question will be whether our findings can readily be extended to other species," Lynch said. "We are, in fact, doing that now. In addition, there is need for some solid molecular work to test our hypothesis about the mechanism of intron origin."

Intron is short for "intragenic region," a segment of DNA embedded within the coding portion of a gene. Introns are common in eukaryotic organisms -- animals, plants, fungi, and protists. When genes are expressed, special machinery within the cell nucleus usually removes the introns, thereby producing a transcript of the gene that is devoid of nonsense. Some introns are very small (20 DNA base pairs or fewer). A few introns are shockingly long (nearly 500,000 base pairs) long. Within a gene region, the total length of introns may dwarf the actual coding regions. There's a gene on humans' 22nd chromosome that is so riddled with introns, only 10 percent of it actually contains coding DNA. The rest is comprised of introns.

Scientists have generally assumed introns are so deleterious, their insertion almost always spells doom for the cell lines within individual organisms that produce offspring. With the exception of alternative splicing, introns serve no apparent function and consume needless energy when cells must duplicate all of their DNA. More importantly, the insertion of a new intron in a bad place can interfere with the cellular machinery's expression of an important gene. Experts have taken all of this to mean intron insertions are extremely rare events.

Almost all of the introns the IU Bloomington biologists located possessed a sequence of indeterminate origin. Only one of the 24 identified sequences bore a resemblance to a specific DNA sequences associated either with the Daphnia genome or its parasites. The other 23 introns had sequences that appear to have been improvised by the machinery responsible for DNA synthesis. "Our molecular analyses have enabled us to reject a number of hypotheses for the mechanism of intron origins, while clearly indicating an entirely unexpected pathway -- emergence as accidents arising during the repair of double-strand breaks," Lynch said.

Abraham Tucker, now at Indiana University Bloomington, and paper co-author Way Sung were both graduate students of William Kelley Thomas at the University of New Hampshire's Hubbard Center for Genome Studies when they did the bioinformatic analysis of the Daphnia genome that led to the findings of this paper. Drawing on longtime collaborations between Lynch's lab and the Hubbard Center on the daphnia genome project, the two were able to access all daphnia genome sequences.

"It was a very intense analysis, but it was obvious within a few days that there was some very interesting data," says Thomas, who is Hubbard Professor in Genomics and director of the Hubbard Center for Genome Studies. "This was a wonderful collaborative project."

This research was funded with grants from the National Science Foundation.

To speak with Tucker, Li, or Lynch, please contact David Bricker, University Communications, at 812-856-9035 or brickerd@indiana.edu.

"Extensive, Recent Intron Gains in Daphnia Populations" Science, v. 326, pp. 1260-1262

David Bricker | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.indiana.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel

nachricht The Nagoya Protocol Creates Disadvantages for Many Countries when Applied to Microorganisms
05.12.2016 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA's AIM observes early noctilucent ice clouds over Antarctica

05.12.2016 | Earth Sciences

Shape matters when light meets atom

05.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”

05.12.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>