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Dr. Gertraud Burger

Wednesday, 14th November 2018 1:00 pm
Where: E2-165

Title: Massive gene defects compensated at the RNA level

The arguably most unusual genome architecture and gene structure is found in mitochondria of the marine micro-eukaryotes called diplonemids. Specifically, we discovered that their mitochondrial genome is composed of a hundred or so small circular chromosomes, and that genes are systematically fragmented with pieces spread over multiple chromosomes. In addition to fragmentation, coding regions carry numerous nucleotide deletions and substitutions.


The result is twofold: from a molecular-biology perspective, these genes are non-functional, and from a genomics researcher perspective, they are unrecognizable. When it became obvious that this unconventional gene structure prevents inferring the organism’s genetic makeup from genome data alone, we generated additional transcriptome and proteome data.


We will present how exactly these broken genes give rise to functional messenger and ribosomal RNA. The process involves separate transcription of gene pieces, three different types of RNA editing, and finally the joining of pieces to mature transcripts. As the process is definitely distinct from known intron trans-splicing, several questions arise: (i) how is matchmaking of mates achieved, given a population of ~100 distinct transcript pieces and a highly accurate outcome as seen in deep transcriptome sequencing? (ii) What is the molecular machinery that accomplishes accurate joining? And, to speak in François Jacob’s terms, (iii) which are the basic cellular parts by which evolutionary tinkering lead to this innovative gene expression mode?   

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