Genome biology and evolution

History of plastid DNA insertions reveals weak deletion and at mutation biases in angiosperm mitochondrial genomes.

PMID 25416619


Angiosperm mitochondrial genomes exhibit many unusual properties, including heterogeneous nucleotide composition and exceptionally large and variable genome sizes. Determining the role of nonadaptive mechanisms such as mutation bias in shaping the molecular evolution of these unique genomes has proven challenging because their dynamic structures generally prevent identification of homologous intergenic sequences for comparative analyses. Here, we report an analysis of angiosperm mitochondrial DNA sequences that are derived from inserted plastid DNA (mtpts). The availability of numerous completely sequenced plastid genomes allows us to infer the evolutionary history of these insertions, including the specific nucleotide substitutions and indels that have occurred because their incorporation into the mitochondrial genome. Our analysis confirmed that many mtpts have a complex history, including frequent gene conversion and multiple examples of horizontal transfer between divergent angiosperm lineages. Nevertheless, it is clear that the majority of extant mtpt sequence in angiosperms is the product of recent transfer (or gene conversion) and is subject to rapid loss/deterioration, suggesting that most mtpts are evolving relatively free from functional constraint. The evolution of mtpt sequences reveals a pattern of biased mutational input in angiosperm mitochondrial genomes, including an excess of small deletions over insertions and a skew toward nucleotide substitutions that increase AT content. However, these mutation biases are far weaker than have been observed in many other cellular genomes, providing insight into some of the notable features of angiosperm mitochondrial architecture, including the retention of large intergenic regions and the relatively neutral GC content found in these regions.