Evaluation of the mechanisms of intron loss and gain in the social amoebae Dictyostelium
Although introns were first discovered almost 30 years ago, their evolutionary origin remains elusive. In this work, we used multispecies whole-genome alignments to map Drosophila melanogaster introns onto 10 other fully sequenced Drosophila genomes. We were able to find 1,944 sites where an intron was missing in one or more species. We show that for most (>80%) of these cases, there is no leftover intronic sequence or any missing exonic sequence, indicating exact intron loss or gain events. We used parsimony to classify these differences as 1,754 intron loss events and 213 gain events. We show that lost and gained introns are significantly shorter than average and flanked by longer than average exons. They also display quite distinct phase distributions and show greater than average similarity between the 5' splice site and its 3' partner splice site. Introns that have been lost in one or more species evolve faster than other introns, occur in slowly evolving genes, and are found adjacent to each other more often than would be expected for independent single losses. Our results support the cDNA recombination mechanism of intron loss, suggest that selective pressures affect site-specific loss rates, and show conclusively that intron gain has occurred within the Drosophila lineage, solidifying the "introns-middle" hypothesis and providing some hints about the gain mechanism.