Use of RNA secondary structure for studying the evolution of RNase P and RNase MRP

Lesley J. Collins, Vincent Moulton, David Penny

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Secondary structure is evaluated for determining evolutionary relationships between catalytic RNA molecules that are so distantly related they are scarcely alignable. The ribonucleoproteins RNase P (P) and RNase MRP (MRP) have been suggested to be evolutionarily related because of similarities in both function and secondary structure. However, their RNA sequences cannot be aligned with any confidence, and this leads to uncertainty in any trees inferred from sequences. We report several approaches to using secondary structures for inferring evolutionary trees and emphasize quantitative tests to demonstrate that evolutionary information can be recovered. For P and MRP, three hypotheses for the relatedness are considered. The first is that MRP is derived from P in early eukaryotes. The next is that MRP is derived from P from an early endosymbiont. The third is that both P and MRP evolved in the RNA-world (and the need for MRP has since been lost in prokaryotes). Quantitative comparisons of the pRNA and mrpRNA secondary structures have found that the possibility of an organellar origin of MRP is unlikely. In addition, comparison of secondary structures support the identity of an RNase P–like sequence in the maize chloroplast genome. Overall, it is concluded that RNA secondary structure is useful for evaluating evolutionary relatedness, even with sequences that cannot be aligned with confidence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-204
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Molecular Evolution
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2000

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