Hammerhead ribozymes represent the most common of the 9 natural classes of self-cleaving RNAs. The hammerhead catalytic core includes 11 highly-conserved nucleotides located largely within the unpaired regions of a junction formed by stems I, II and III. The vast majority of previously reported examples carry an additional pseudoknot or other tertiary interactions between nucleotides that precede stem I and nucleotides in the loop of stem II. These extra contacts are critical for high-speed RNA catalysis. Herein, we report the discovery of ∼150,000 additional variant hammerhead representatives that exhibit diminished stem III substructures. These variants are frequently associated with Penelope-like retrotransposons, which are a type of mobile genetic element. Kinetic analyses indicate that these RNAs form dimers to cleave RNA.
Keywords: Penelope-like retrotransposon; Phosphoester transfer; self-cleaving.