Adaptation for horizontal transfer in a homing endonuclease

Koufopanou, VG, M. R.; Burt, A.,  Molecular Biology and Evolution,  19:239-246. 2002.

Selfish genes of no function other than self-propagation are susceptible to degeneration if they become fixed in a population. and regular transfer to new species may be the only means for their long-term persistence. To test this idea we surveyed 24 species of yeast for VDE, a nuclear. intein-associated homing endonuclease gene (HEG) originally discovered in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Phylogenetic analyses show that horizontal transmission has been a regular occurrence in its evolutionary history. Moreover, VDE appears to be specifically adapted for horizontal transmission. Its 31-bp recognition sequence is an unusually well-conserved region in an unusually well-conserved gene. In addition, the nine nucleotide sites most critical for homing are also unusually well conserved. Such adaptation for horizontal transmission presumably arose as a consequence of selection, both among HEGs at different locations in the genome and among variant,,, at the same location. The frequency of horizontal transmission must therefore be a key feature constraining the distribution and abundance of these genes.