Operons as a common form of chromosomal organization in C. elegans

Nature. 1994 Nov 17;372(6503):270-2. doi: 10.1038/372270a0.


Although eukaryotic genes are usually transcribed individually, at least a few Caenorhabditis elegans genes appear to be transcribed polycistronically in clusters resembling bacterial operons. The spliced leader SL2 (ref. 2) is specific for trans-splicing to downstream genes in these operons. In addition, many C. elegans pre-mRNAs are trans-spliced to SL1 (ref. 3) near the 5' ends of pre-mRNAs. Because operons have not previously been found in higher eukaryotes, we have investigated how widespread they are in the C. elegans genome. We identified gene clusters using the extensive data generated by the genome project and tested seven for trans-splicing specificity. All were found to fit expectations for polycistronic transcription. In addition, we surveyed reported C. elegans genes for trans-splicing specificity. Both methods indicate that the pre-mRNAs of about 70% of C. elegans genes are trans-spliced and as many as a quarter are transcribed in operons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Chromosomes*
  • Cosmids
  • Genes, Helminth
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Multigene Family
  • Operon*
  • RNA Precursors / metabolism
  • RNA Splicing
  • RNA, Helminth / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • RNA Precursors
  • RNA, Helminth

Associated data

  • GENBANK/M89330
  • GENBANK/Z14710
  • GENBANK/Z14728