Group II introns are self-splicing, retrotransposable ribozymes that contribute to gene expression and evolution in most organisms. The ongoing identification of new group II introns and recent bioinformatic analyses have suggested that there are novel lineages, which include the group IIE and IIF introns. Because the function and biochemical activity of group IIE and IIF introns have never been experimentally tested and because these introns appear to have features that distinguish them from other introns, we set out to determine if they were indeed self-splicing, catalytically active RNA molecules. To this end, we transcribed and studied a set of diverse group IIE and IIF introns, quantitatively characterizing their in vitro self-splicing reactivity, ionic requirements, and reaction products. In addition, we used mutational analysis to determine the relative role of the EBS-IBS 1 and 2 recognition elements during splicing by these introns. We show that group IIE and IIF introns are indeed distinct active intron families, with different reactivities and structures. We show that the group IIE introns self-splice exclusively through the hydrolytic pathway, while group IIF introns can also catalyze transesterifications. Intriguingly, we observe one group IIF intron that forms circular intron. Finally, despite an apparent EBS2-IBS2 duplex in the sequences of these introns, we find that this interaction plays no role during self-splicing in vitro. It is now clear that the group IIE and IIF introns are functional ribozymes, with distinctive properties that may be useful for biotechnological applications, and which may contribute to the biology of host organisms.
Keywords: RNA catalysis; RNA structure; noncoding RNA; splicing; transposon.