Peridinin-containing dinoflagellate plastomes are predominantly encoded in nuclear genomes, with less than 20 essential chloroplast proteins carried on "minicircles". Each minicircle generally carries one gene and a short non-coding region (NCR) with a median length of approximately 400-1000 bp. We report here differential nuclease sensitivity and two-dimensional southern blot patterns, suggesting that dsDNA minicircles are in fact the minor forms, with substantial DNA:RNA hybrids (DRHs). Additionally, we observed large molecular weight intermediates, cell-lysate-dependent NCR secondary structures, multiple bidirectional predicted ssDNA structures, and different southern blot patterns when probed with different NCR fragments. In silico analysis suggested the existence of substantial secondary structures with inverted repeats (IR) and palindrome structures within the initial ~650 bp of the NCR sequences, in accordance with conversion event(s) outcomes with PCR. Based on these findings, we propose a new transcription-templating-translation model, which is associated with cross-hopping shift intermediates. Since dinoflagellate chloroplasts are cytosolic and lack nuclear envelope breakdown, the dynamic DRH minicircle transport could have contributed to the spatial-temporal dynamics required for photosystem repair. This represents a paradigm shift from the previous understanding of "minicircle DNAs" to a "working plastome", which will have significant implications for its molecular functionality and evolution.
Keywords: DNA:RNA hybrids; chloroplasts; minicircle; non-coding region; plastids.