Group I introns are relatively common within nuclear ribosomal DNA of eukaryotic microorganisms, especially in myxomycetes. Introns at position S516 in the small subunit ribosomal RNA gene are particularly common, but have a sporadic occurrence in myxomycetes. Fuligo septica, Badhamia gracilis, and Physarum flavicomum, all members of the family Physaraceae, contain related group IC1 introns at this site. The F. septica intron was studied at the molecular level and found to self-splice as naked RNA and to generate full-length intron RNA circles during incubation. Group I introns at position S516 appear to have a particularly widespread distribution among protists and fungi. Secondary structural analysis of more than 140 S516 group I introns available in the database revealed five different types of organization, including IC1 introns with and without His-Cys homing endonuclease genes, complex twin-ribozyme introns, IE introns, and degenerate group I-like introns. Both intron structural and phylogenetic analyses indicate a multiple origin of the S516 introns during evolution. The myxomycete introns are related to S516 introns in the more distantly related brown algae and Acanthamoeba species. Possible mechanisms of intron transfer both at the RNA- and DNA-levels are discussed in order to explain the observed widespread, but scattered, phylogenetic distribution.
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Vol. 50 • No. 4