Plastid translation and transcription genes in a non-photosynthetic plant: intact, missing and pseudo genes

EMBO J. 1991 Nov;10(11):3281-8.


The non-photosynthetic, parasitic flowering plant Epifagus virginiana has recently been shown to contain a grossly reduced plastid genome that has lost many photosynthetic and chloro-respiratory genes. We have cloned and sequenced a 3.9 kb domain of plastid DNA from Epifagus to investigate the patterns of evolutionary change in such a reduced genome and to determine which genes are still present and likely to be functional. This 3.9 kb domain is colinear with a 35.4 kb region of tobacco chloroplast DNA, differing from it by a minimum of 11 large deletions varying in length from 354 bp to 11.5 kb, as well as by a number of small deletions and insertions. The nine genes retained in Epifagus encode seven tRNAs and two ribosomal proteins and are coextensive and highly conserved in sequence with homologs in photosynthetic plants. This suggests that these genes are functional in Epifagus and, together with evidence that the Epifagus plastid genome is transcribed, implies that plastid gene products play a role in processes other than photosynthesis and gene expression. Genes that are completely absent include not only photosynthetic genes, but surprisingly, genes encoding three subunits of RNA polymerase, four tRNAs and one ribosomal protein. In addition, only pseudogenes are found for two other tRNAs. Despite these defunct tRNA genes, codon and amino acid usage in Epifagus protein genes is normal. We therefore hypothesize that the expression of plastid genes in Epifagus relies on the import of nuclear encoded tRNAs and RNA polymerase from the cytoplasm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / genetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Phylogeny
  • Plants / genetics*
  • Plants, Toxic
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • Pseudogenes*
  • RNA, Transfer / genetics
  • Ribosomal Proteins / genetics
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Tobacco / genetics
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Ribosomal Proteins
  • DNA
  • RNA, Transfer
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases

Associated data

  • GENBANK/M60953
  • GENBANK/S58426
  • GENBANK/S58762
  • GENBANK/S59868
  • GENBANK/S60920
  • GENBANK/X56822
  • GENBANK/X60659
  • GENBANK/X60660
  • GENBANK/X60661
  • GENBANK/X61798