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Open Access Research article

Diversity, mobility, and structural and functional evolution of group II introns carrying an unusual 3' extension

Nicolas J Tourasse12*, Fredrik B Stabell13 and Anne-Brit Kolstø1

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory for Microbial Dynamics (LaMDa), Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

2 Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique, UMR CNRS 7141, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 13 rue Pierre et Marie Curie, 75005 Paris, France

3 GeoKnowledge AS, Oslo, Norway

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:564  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-564

Published: 28 December 2011



Group II introns are widespread genetic elements endowed with a dual functionality. They are catalytic RNAs (ribozymes) that are able of self-splicing and they are also mobile retroelements that can invade genomic DNA. The group II intron RNA secondary structure is typically made up of six domains. However, a number of unusual group II introns carrying a unique extension of 53-56 nucleotides at the 3' end have been identified previously in bacteria of the Bacillus cereus group.


In the present study, we conducted combined sequence comparisons and phylogenetic analyses of introns, host gene, plasmid and chromosome of host strains in order to gain insights into mobility, dispersal, and evolution of the unusual introns and their extension. We also performed in vitro mutational and kinetic experiments to investigate possible functional features related to the extension.


We report the identification of novel copies of group II introns carrying a 3' extension including the first two copies in bacteria not belonging to the B. cereus group, Bacillus pseudofirmus OF4 and Bacillus sp. 2_A_57_CT2, an uncharacterized species phylogenetically close to B. firmus. Interestingly, the B. pseudofirmus intron has a longer extension of 70 bases. From sequence comparisons and phylogenetic analyses, several possible separate events of mobility involving the atypical introns could be identified, including both retrohoming and retrotransposition events. In addition, identical extensions were found in introns that otherwise exhibit little sequence conservation in the rest of their structures, with the exception of the conserved and catalytically critical domains V and VI, suggesting either separate acquisition of the extra segment by different group II introns or a strong selection pressure acting on the extension. Furthermore, we show by in vitro splicing experiments that the 3' extension affects the splicing properties differently in introns belonging to separate evolutionary branches.


Altogether this study provides additional insights into the structural and functional evolution of unusual introns harboring a 3' extension and lends further evidence that these introns are mobile with their extension.

Group II intron; Unusual extension; Evolution; pXO1-42; Plasmid; Mobility