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Osigus, Hans-Jürgen; Eitel, Michael; Schierwater, Bernd (2017): Deep RNA sequencing reveals the smallest known mitochondrial micro exon in animals: The placozoan cox1 single base pair exon.
In: PLOS One 12(5), e0177959


The phylum Placozoa holds a key position for our understanding of the evolution of mitochondrial genomes in Metazoa. Placozoans possess large mitochondrial genomes which harbor several remarkable characteristics such as a fragmented cox1 gene and trans-splicing cox1 introns. A previous study also suggested the existence of cox1 mRNA editing in Trichoplax adhaerens, yet the only formally described species in the phylum Placozoa. We have analyzed RNA-seq data of the undescribed sister species, Placozoa sp. H2 ("Panama" clone), with special focus on the mitochondrial mRNA. While we did not find support for a previously postulated cox1 mRNA editing mechanism, we surprisingly found two independent transcripts representing intermediate cox1 mRNA splicing stages. Both transcripts consist of partial cox1 exon as well as overlapping intron fragments. The data suggest that the cox1 gene harbors a single base pair (cytosine) micro exon. Furthermore, conserved group I intron structures flank this unique micro exon also in other placozoans. We discuss the evolutionary origin of this micro exon in the context of a self-splicing intron gain in the cox1 gene of the last common ancestor of extant placozoans.