Group II introns are mobile genetic elements that can insert at specific target sequences, however, their origins are often challenging to reconstruct because of rapid sequence decay following invasion and spread into different sites. To advance understanding of group II intron spread, we studied the intron-rich mitochondrial genome (mitogenome) in the unicellular red alga, Porphyridium.
Analysis of mitogenomes in three closely related species in this genus revealed they were 3–6-fold larger in size (56–132 kbp) than in other red algae, that have genomes of size 21–43 kbp. This discrepancy is explained by two factors, group II intron invasion and expansion of repeated sequences in large intergenic regions. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrates that many mitogenome group II intron families are specific to Porphyridium, whereas others are closely related to sequences in fungi and in the red alga-derived plastids of stramenopiles. Network analysis of intron-encoded proteins (IEPs) shows a clear link between plastid and mitochondrial IEPs in distantly related species, with both groups associated with prokaryotic sequences.
Our analysis of group II introns in Porphyridium mitogenomes demonstrates the dynamic nature of group II intron evolution, strongly supports the lateral movement of group II introns among diverse eukaryotes, and reveals their ability to proliferate, once integrated in mitochondrial DNA.