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Learning to live together: mutualism between self-splicing introns and their hosts

David R Edgell1*, Venkata R Chalamcharla23 and Marlene Belfort2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada N6A 5C1

2 Center for Medical Sciences, Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, and University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, NY 12208, USA

3 National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

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BMC Biology 2011, 9:22  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-9-22

Published: 11 April 2011


Group I and II introns can be considered as molecular parasites that interrupt protein-coding and structural RNA genes in all domains of life. They function as self-splicing ribozymes and thereby limit the phenotypic costs associated with disruption of a host gene while they act as mobile DNA elements to promote their spread within and between genomes. Once considered purely selfish DNA elements, they now seem, in the light of recent work on the molecular mechanisms regulating bacterial and phage group I and II intron dynamics, to show evidence of co-evolution with their hosts. These previously underappreciated relationships serve the co-evolving entities particularly well in times of environmental stress.