Origin and evolution of the chloroplast trnK (matK) intron: A model for evolution of group II intron RNA structures

Georg Hausner, Robert Olson, Dawn Simon, Ian Johnson, Erin R. Sanders, Kenneth G. Karol, Richard M. McCourt, Steven Zimmerly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


The trnK intron of plants encodes the matK open reading frame (ORF), which has been used extensively as a phylogenetic marker for classification of plants. Here we examined the evolution of the trnK intron itself as a model for group II intron evolution in plants. Representative trnK intron sequences were compiled from species spanning algae to angiosperms, and four introns were newly sequenced. Phylogenetic analyses showed that the matK ORFs belong to the ML (mitochondrial-like) subclass of group II intron ORFs, indicating that they were derived from a mobile group II intron of the class. RNA structures of the introns were folded and analyzed, which revealed progressive RNA structural deviations and degenerations throughout plant evolution. The data support a model in which plant organellar group II introns were derived from bacterial-like introns that had "standard" RNA structures and were competent for self-splicing and mobility and that subsequently the ribozyme structures degenerated to ultimately become dependent upon host-splicing factors. We propose that the patterns of RNA structure evolution seen for the trnK intron will apply to the other group II introns in plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)380-391
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Chloroplast
  • Group II intron
  • Maturase
  • matk
  • trnK

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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