Mobile Bacterial Group II Introns at the Crux of Eukaryotic Evolution

Microbiol Spectr. 2015 Feb;3(1):MDNA3-0050-2014. doi: 10.1128/microbiolspec.MDNA3-0050-2014.


This review focuses on recent developments in our understanding of group II intron function, the relationships of these introns to retrotransposons and spliceosomes, and how their common features have informed thinking about bacterial group II introns as key elements in eukaryotic evolution. Reverse transcriptase-mediated and host factor-aided intron retrohoming pathways are considered along with retrotransposition mechanisms to novel sites in bacteria, where group II introns are thought to have originated. DNA target recognition and movement by target-primed reverse transcription infer an evolutionary relationship among group II introns, non-LTR retrotransposons, such as LINE elements, and telomerase. Additionally, group II introns are almost certainly the progenitors of spliceosomal introns. Their profound similarities include splicing chemistry extending to RNA catalysis, reaction stereochemistry, and the position of two divalent metals that perform catalysis at the RNA active site. There are also sequence and structural similarities between group II introns and the spliceosome's small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs) and between a highly conserved core spliceosomal protein Prp8 and a group II intron-like reverse transcriptase. It has been proposed that group II introns entered eukaryotes during bacterial endosymbiosis or bacterial-archaeal fusion, proliferated within the nuclear genome, necessitating evolution of the nuclear envelope, and fragmented giving rise to spliceosomal introns. Thus, these bacterial self-splicing mobile elements have fundamentally impacted the composition of extant eukaryotic genomes, including the human genome, most of which is derived from close relatives of mobile group II introns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / genetics
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Cell Fusion
  • Eukaryota / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Introns*
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Symbiosis