I would really appreciate your expertise and your notions as to the evolutionary meaning of introns. What execute they perform in eukaryotic bio genomes and why perform prokaryotes not have introns?

-A curious adult from north Ireland

September 10, 2009

This is a great question! scientists are tho trying to figure out why prokaryotes don"t have any spliceosomal introns*. And also why part eukaryotes prefer yeast have actually only a couple of while others prefer humans have actually tens of hundreds of them.

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There space actually two contending theories. One is referred to as introns-early (IE). It claims that introns used to it is in in both prokaryotes and also eukaryotes, yet bacteria and other prokaryotes have since lost them.

The other theory, as you might have guessed, is called introns-late (IL). It says that introns occurred in standard scale after they break-up from prokaryotes.

Without a time machine, that is obviously tough to call which of these models is right. Scientists are feather at numerous DNA from lots of different beasts to look for clues around where introns come from.

Before talking about any results, we have to make certain we"re every on the same page. What I"ll do very first is briefly go over genes, genomes, introns, etc. Then we can delve a little deeper into some of the ideas around why we have these pesky introns in ~ all.

Genes, Introns and Proteins, oh My!

As friend probably already know, DNA has the instructions for making and also running a life thing. And each type of life thing has a different set of DNA instructions. So, for example, a dog has the instructions to make four legs and also an octopus has actually instructions because that making eight.

Lots of this instructions are discovered in long stretches the DNA dubbed genes. Each gene has the instructions for making a certain protein the does a specific job.

Some proteins carry oxygen in our blood. Rather digest strength in our food. Or quiet others do pigments that shade our eyes, hair, and skin. And also so on. Basically proteins do many of the work of making and running each of us.

Spliceosomal introns are actually huge pieces that DNA stuck in the middle of genes. What they execute is break up the protein instructions. If the cell doesn"t carry out something about these introns, it"ll make mostly garbled proteins. And also the cell would certainly die.

Luckily our cells can get rid of these introns prior to they check out the instructions. They eliminate them at the RNA stage.

Introns and Exons: Cutting and also Pasting

Our cell don"t go straight from the DNA accuse in gene to proteins. First, castle copy those instructions into something dubbed RNA. This RNA (called messenger or mRNA) is then analyzed into a particular protein.

Introns room chopped the end after the RNA is make from the DNA. The pieces of protein indict (called exons) space then pasted together. Both that these processes together

Splicing deserve to sometimes happen at different spots in a gene. What then happens is that different bits that instructions acquire pasted together to make different proteins. Because of splicing, you deserve to get more than one protein native a single gene. These various proteins are dubbed splice variants.


Alternative splicing makes two various proteins native the very same gene.

Let"s look at how this all functions using the word "magnificent." We"ll pretend that "magnificent" is a gene.

You can remove miscellaneous chunks of letters (introns) and also get countless different native (splice variants). A couple of words you obtain are "magic," "nice," or "age." even though they came from the same place, this words all have different meanings and different lengths.

Now imagine you should write the sentence, "Harry Potter is magic." now imagine that you spliced splendid wrong and ended up through "nice" instead of "magic." girlfriend get, "Harry Potter is nice." the still renders sense but has a different meaning. And "age" would make because that a rash sentence!

The exact same thing can happen with the splicing the mRNA. Depending on where an mRNA is cut and also pasted, you can finish up with various proteins the do various things. Choose Harry gift magic in one case and nice in the other.

And periodically splicing can happen in the wrong place. Climate you can finish up through a protein that have the right to stop working or the gains a brand-new function. These splice variants can have serious consequences such as cancer or disease.

Which is why getting splicing appropriate is for this reason important. Given every one of this, introns much better have some critical role or it would be much easier just not to have actually them roughly at all.

Evolutionary meaning of Introns

As I stated at the beginning, the number of introns varies substantially between species from less than a hundreds to hundreds of thousands every cell. The dimension of each intron additionally varies greatly. In much easier organisms they can be quite short, when in higher eukaryotes, they deserve to be really long.

So wherein did introns come from? remember there space two contending hypotheses: introns-early (IE) and also introns-late (IL). Although we don"t recognize which (if either) happened, I"ll explain the basics that these 2 models and also give some proof for each.

The IE hypothesis proposes that introns are an extremely old and were uncovered in both prokaryote and also eukaryote ancestors. The idea is the our more quickly ancestors had plenty of very tiny proteins units. Introns then allowed the mixing and also matching of this instructions which led to a rapid growth in the number of genes.

Over time, introns were lost from prokaryotes as a way to do proteins much more efficiently. This problem in the hurly burly human being of bacteria where growing as fast as feasible is often an important for survival.

In the IL hypothesis, introns appeared after the prokaryotes and also eukaryotes walk their different ways. So instead of introns being lost from prokaryotes, lock were got in eukaryotes.

Is over there an benefit for introns and also exons? Remember, many eukaryotes are multicellular organisms. The mixing and also matching that exons native the same gene deserve to lead to protein with various functions.

Eukaryotes can need this diversity in proteins due to the fact that they have actually many varieties of cell all v the same set of genes. Therefore, introns space a method to generate various proteins or different quantities of proteins that are unique to a cabinet type.

Introns might also allow for much faster evolution. Because that example, cutting and also pasting exons from existing genes can additionally create new genes.

Introns beforehand or Late? probably sometime in between.

So scientists can come up for a rationale because that either model. To try to figure out i beg your pardon one is right, scientists are comparing whereby introns are situated in different organisms.

If introns were lost from prokaryotes (IE theory), then we could predict that introns in eukaryotes should be in around the very same place. At the very least for few of the earliest ones.

This is since eukaryotes had introns long ago, prior to splitting with prokaryotes. And eukaryotes evolving from these at an early stage ancestors should keep some of these very same introns.

If introns were gained in standard scale (IL theory), then introns between distant types should it is in in an ext random places. This is due to the fact that as eukaryotes evolved, the varieties with greater number the introns should have them inserted in much more and different places in their DNA. (This is assuming the introns insert randomly in DNA. That is one more story!)

The really comparison that intron position shows miscellaneous in between, where not every little thing is similar and not every little thing is random. Because that example, 25% of human being introns space at the exact same position as plant introns. However 20-68% the introns are particular to that species.

So, together you deserve to tell, there"s still a many work scientists have to do come answer your question. Figuring out the DNA order of much more species and doing an ext comparisons of very closely related types might aid solve the mystery of intron evolution.

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*I"ve stated spliceosomal introns due to the fact that prokaryotes actually do have a certain type of introns. They are concerned eukaryotic introns called "group I and also II" introns discovered in tRNA and rRNA . The RNA created from these introns have actually their own special activity- they can splice themselves. Part scientists think that the spliceosomal introns progressed from these prokaryotic introns.