Hypothesis: Trans-splicing Generates Evolutionary Novelty in the Photosynthetic Amoeba Paulinella

Arwa Gabr, Timothy G. Stephens, Debashish Bhattacharya

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1 Scopus citations


Plastid primary endosymbiosis has occurred twice, once in the Archaeplastida ancestor and once in the Paulinella (Rhizaria) lineage. Both events precipitated massive evolutionary changes, including the recruitment and activation of genes that are horizontally acquired (HGT) and the redeployment of existing genes and pathways in novel contexts. Here we address the latter aspect in Paulinella micropora KR01 (hereafter, KR01) that has independently evolved spliced leader (SL) trans-splicing (SLTS) of nuclear–derived transcripts. We investigated the role of this process in gene regulation, novel gene origination, and endosymbiont integration. Our analysis shows that 20% of KR01 genes give rise to transcripts with at least one (but in some cases, multiple) sites of SL addition. This process, which often occurs at canonical cis-splicing acceptor sites (internal introns), results in shorter transcripts that may produce 5′-truncated proteins with novel functions. SL–truncated transcripts fall into four categories that may show: (i) altered protein localization, (ii) altered protein function, structure, or regulation, (iii) loss of valid alternative start codons, preventing translation, or (iv) multiple SL addition sites at the 5′-terminus. The SL RNA genes required for SLTS are putatively absent in the heterotrophic sister lineage of photosynthetic Paulinella species. Moreover, a high proportion of transcripts derived from genes of endosymbiotic gene transfer (EGT) and HGT origin contain SL sequences. We hypothesize that truncation of transcripts by SL addition may facilitate the generation and expression of novel gene variants and that SLTS may have enhanced the activation and fixation of foreign genes in the host genome of the photosynthetic lineages, playing a key role in primary endosymbiont integration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)392-405
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Phycology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aquatic Science
  • Plant Science


  • Paulinella
  • Rhizaria
  • natural selection
  • photosynthetic eukaryotes
  • protein truncation
  • splice leader
  • trans-splicing


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