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  1. Abstract

    Spliceosomal introns are gene segments removed from RNA transcripts by ribonucleoprotein machineries called spliceosomes. In some eukaryotes a second ‘minor’ spliceosome is responsible for processing a tiny minority of introns. Despite its seemingly modest role, minor splicing has persisted for roughly 1.5 billion years of eukaryotic evolution. Identifying minor introns in over 3000 eukaryotic genomes, we report diverse evolutionary histories including surprisingly high numbers in some fungi and green algae, repeated loss, as well as general biases in their positional and genic distributions. We estimate that ancestral minor intron densities were comparable to those of vertebrates, suggesting a trend of long-term stasis. Finally, three findings suggest a major role for neutral processes in minor intron evolution. First, highly similar patterns of minor and major intron evolution contrast with both functionalist and deleterious model predictions. Second, observed functional biases among minor intron-containing genes are largely explained by these genes’ greater ages. Third, no association of intron splicing with cell proliferation in a minor intron-rich fungus suggests that regulatory roles are lineage-specific and thus cannot offer a general explanation for minor splicing’s persistence. These data constitute the most comprehensive view of minor introns and their evolutionary history to date, and provide a foundation for future studies of these remarkable genetic elements.

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  2. Larracuente, Amanda (Ed.)
    Abstract Genome size in cellular organisms varies by six orders of magnitude, yet the cause of this large variation remains unexplained. The influential Drift-Barrier Hypothesis proposes that large genomes tend to evolve in small populations due to inefficient selection. However, to our knowledge no explicit tests of the Drift-Barrier Hypothesis have been reported. We performed the first explicit test, by comparing estimated census population size and genome size in mammals while incorporating potential covariates and the effect of shared evolutionary history. We found a lack of correlation between census population size and genome size among 199 species of mammals. These results suggest that population size is not the predominant factor influencing genome size and that the Drift-Barrier Hypothesis should be considered provisional. 
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  3. Ouangraoua, Aida (Ed.)
    Abstract Previous evolutionary reconstructions have concluded that early eukaryotic ancestors including both the last common ancestor of eukaryotes and of all fungi had intron-rich genomes. By contrast, some extant eukaryotes have few introns, underscoring the complex histories of intron–exon structures, and raising the question as to why these few introns are retained. Here, we have used recently available fungal genomes to address a variety of questions related to intron evolution. Evolutionary reconstruction of intron presence and absence using 263 diverse fungal species supports the idea that massive intron reduction through intron loss has occurred in multiple clades. The intron densities estimated in various fungal ancestors differ from zero to 7.6 introns per 1 kb of protein-coding sequence. Massive intron loss has occurred not only in microsporidian parasites and saccharomycetous yeasts, but also in diverse smuts and allies. To investigate the roles of the remaining introns in highly-reduced species, we have searched for their special characteristics in eight intron-poor fungi. Notably, the introns of ribosome-associated genes RPL7 and NOG2 have conserved positions; both intron-containing genes encoding snoRNAs. Furthermore, both the proteins and snoRNAs are involved in ribosome biogenesis, suggesting that the expression of the protein-coding genes and noncoding snoRNAs may be functionally coordinated. Indeed, these introns are also conserved in three-quarters of fungi species. Our study shows that fungal introns have a complex evolutionary history and underappreciated roles in gene expression. 
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  4. Abstract During nuclear maturation of most eukaryotic pre-messenger RNAs and long non-coding RNAs, introns are removed through the process of RNA splicing. Different classes of introns are excised by the U2-type or the U12-type spliceosomes, large complexes of small nuclear ribonucleoprotein particles and associated proteins. We created intronIC, a program for assigning intron class to all introns in a given genome, and used it on 24 eukaryotic genomes to create the Intron Annotation and Orthology Database (IAOD). We then used the data in the IAOD to revisit several hypotheses concerning the evolution of the two classes of spliceosomal introns, finding support for the class conversion model explaining the low abundance of U12-type introns in modern genomes. 
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  5. The mammalian sex chromosome system (XX female/XY male) is ancient and highly conserved. The sex chromosome karyotype of the creeping vole (Microtus oregoni) represents a long-standing anomaly, with an X chromosome that is unpaired in females (X0) and exclusively maternally transmitted. We produced a highly contiguous male genome assembly, together with short-read genomes and transcriptomes for both sexes. We show thatM. oregonihas lost an independently segregating Y chromosome and that the male-specific sex chromosome is a second X chromosome that is largely homologous to the maternally transmitted X. Both maternally inherited and male-specific sex chromosomes carry fragments of the ancestral Y chromosome. Consequences of this recently transformed sex chromosome system include Y-like degeneration and gene amplification on the male-specific X, expression of ancestral Y-linked genes in females, and X inactivation of the male-specific chromosome in male somatic cells. The genome ofM. oregonielucidates the processes that shape the gene content and dosage of mammalian sex chromosomes and exemplifies a rare case of plasticity in an ancient sex chromosome system.

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