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Introns: A mystery renewed
Date:12/10/2009

c region," a segment of DNA embedded within the coding portion of a gene. Introns are common in eukaryotic organisms -- animals, plants, fungi, and protists. When genes are expressed, special machinery within the cell nucleus usually removes the introns, thereby producing a transcript of the gene that is devoid of nonsense. Some introns are very small (20 DNA base pairs or fewer). A few introns are shockingly long (nearly 500,000 base pairs) long. Within a gene region, the total length of introns may dwarf the actual coding regions. There's a gene on humans' 22nd chromosome that is so riddled with introns, only 10 percent of it actually contains coding DNA. The rest is comprised of introns.

Scientists have generally assumed introns are so deleterious, their insertion almost always spells doom for the cell lines within individual organisms that produce offspring. With the exception of alternative splicing, introns serve no apparent function and consume needless energy when cells must duplicate all of their DNA. More importantly, the insertion of a new intron in a bad place can interfere with the cellular machinery's expression of an important gene. Experts have taken all of this to mean intron insertions are extremely rare events.

Almost all of the introns the IU Bloomington biologists located possessed a sequence of indeterminate origin. Only one of the 24 identified sequences bore a resemblance to a specific DNA sequences associated either with the Daphnia genome or its parasites. The other 23 introns had sequences that appear to have been improvised by the machinery responsible for DNA synthesis. "Our molecular analyses have enabled us to reject a number of hypotheses for the mechanism of intron origins, while clearly indicating an entirely unexpected pathway -- emergence as accidents arising during the repair of double-strand breaks," Lynch said.

Abraham Tucker, now at Indiana University Bloomington, and paper co-author Way Sung
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Contact: David Bricker
brickerd@indiana.edu
812-856-9035
Indiana University
Source:Eurekalert  

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