Group II introns are large, autocatalytic ribozymes that catalyze RNA splicing and retrotransposition. Splicing by group II introns plays a major role in the metabolism of plants, fungi, and yeast and contributes to genetic variation in many bacteria. Group II introns have played a major role in genome evolution, as they are likely progenitors of spliceosomal introns, retroelements, and other machinery that controls genetic variation and stability. The structure and catalytic mechanism of group II introns have recently been elucidated through a combination of genetics, chemical biology, solution biochemistry, and crystallography. These studies reveal a dynamic machine that cycles progressively through multiple conformations as it stimulates the various stages of splicing. A central active site, containing a reactive metal ion cluster, catalyzes both steps of self-splicing. These studies provide insights into RNA structure, folding, and catalysis, as they raise new questions about the behavior of RNA machines.
Keywords: RNA catalysis; RNA folding; RNA splicing; enzyme mechanism; retrotransposition; ribozyme.