Remarkable interkingdom conservation of intron positions and massive, lineage-specific intron loss and gain in eukaryotic evolution

Curr Biol. 2003 Sep 2;13(17):1512-7. doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(03)00558-x.


Sequencing of eukaryotic genomes allows one to address major evolutionary problems, such as the evolution of gene structure. We compared the intron positions in 684 orthologous gene sets from 8 complete genomes of animals, plants, fungi, and protists and constructed parsimonious scenarios of evolution of the exon-intron structure for the respective genes. Approximately one-third of the introns in the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum are shared with at least one crown group eukaryote; this number indicates that these introns have been conserved through >1.5 billion years of evolution that separate Plasmodium from the crown group. Paradoxically, humans share many more introns with the plant Arabidopsis thaliana than with the fly or nematode. The inferred evolutionary scenario holds that the common ancestor of Plasmodium and the crown group and, especially, the common ancestor of animals, plants, and fungi had numerous introns. Most of these ancestral introns, which are retained in the genomes of vertebrates and plants, have been lost in fungi, nematodes, arthropods, and probably Plasmodium. In addition, numerous introns have been inserted into vertebrate and plant genes, whereas, in other lineages, intron gain was much less prominent.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence / genetics
  • Animals
  • Conserved Sequence / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fungi / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Introns / genetics*
  • Invertebrates / genetics*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny*
  • Plants / genetics*