There are four major classes of introns: self-splicing group I and group II introns, tRNA and/or archaeal introns and spliceosomal introns in nuclear pre-mRNA. Group I introns are widely distributed in protists, bacteria and bacteriophages. Group II introns are found in fungal and land plant mitochondria, algal plastids, bacteria and Archaea. Group II and spliceosomal introns share a common splicing pathway and might be related to each other. The tRNA and/or archaeal introns are found in the nuclear tRNA of eukaryotes and in archaeal tRNA, rRNA and mRNA. The mechanisms underlying the self-splicing and mobility of a few model group I introns are well understood. By contrast, the role of these highly distinct processes in the evolution of the 1500 group I introns found thus far in nature (e.g. in algae and fungi) has only recently been clarified. The explosion of new sequence data has facilitated the use of comparative methods to understand group I intron evolution in a broader context and to generate hypotheses about intron insertion, splicing and spread that can be tested experimentally.
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