Open Access Open Badges Research article

Loss of matK RNA editing in seed plant chloroplasts

Michael Tillich1, Vinh Le Sy4, Katrin Schulerowitz3, Arndt von Haeseler2, Uwe G Maier3 and Christian Schmitz-Linneweber1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institut für Biologie, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Molekulare Genetik, D-10115 Berlin, Germany

2 Center for Integrative Bioinformatics Vienna, Max F Perutz Laboratories, University of Vienna, Medical University Vienna, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, A-1030 Vienna, Austria

3 Fachbereich Biologie – Zellbiologie, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Karl-von-Frisch-Str, D-35032 Marburg, Germany

4 Department of Computer Sciences, College of Technology, Vietnam National University, Hanoi, Vietnam

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:201  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-201

Published: 13 August 2009



RNA editing in chloroplasts of angiosperms proceeds by C-to-U conversions at specific sites. Nuclear-encoded factors are required for the recognition of cis-elements located immediately upstream of editing sites. The ensemble of editing sites in a chloroplast genome differs widely between species, and editing sites are thought to evolve rapidly. However, large-scale analyses of the evolution of individual editing sites have not yet been undertaken.


Here, we analyzed the evolution of two chloroplast editing sites, matK-2 and matK-3, for which DNA sequences from thousands of angiosperm species are available. Both sites are found in most major taxa, including deep-branching families such as the nymphaeaceae. However, 36 isolated taxa scattered across the entire tree lack a C at one of the two matK editing sites. Tests of several exemplary species from this in silico analysis of matK processing unexpectedly revealed that one of the two sites remain unedited in almost half of all species examined. A comparison of sequences between editors and non-editors showed that specific nucleotides co-evolve with the C at the matK editing sites, suggesting that these nucleotides are critical for editing-site recognition.


(i) Both matK editing sites were present in the common ancestor of all angiosperms and have been independently lost multiple times during angiosperm evolution.

(ii) The editing activities corresponding to matK-2 and matK-3 are unstable.

(iii) A small number of third-codon positions in the vicinity of editing sites are selectively constrained independent of the presence of the editing site, most likely because of interacting RNA-binding proteins.