Plastid translation and transcription genes in a non-photosynthetic plant: Intact, missing and pseudo genes

Clifford W. Morden, Kenneth H. Wolfe, Claude W. Depamphilis, Jeffrey D. Palmer

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133 Scopus citations


The non-photosynthetic, parasitic flowering plant Epifagus virginiana has recently been shown to contain a grossly reduced plastid genome that has lost many photosynthetic and chlororespiratory genes. We have cloned and sequenced a 3.9 kb domain of plastid DNA from Epifagus to investigate the patterns of evolutionary change in such a reduced genome and to determine which genes are still present and likely to be functional. This 3.9 kb domain is colinear with a 35.4 kb region of tobacco chloroplast DNA, differing from it by a minimum of 11 large deletions varying in length from 354 bp to 11.5 kb, as well as by a number of small deletions and insertions. The nine genes retained in Epifagus encode seven tRNAs and two ribosomal proteins and are coextensive and highly conserved in sequence with homologs in photosynthetic plants. This suggests that these genes are functional in Epifagus and, together with evidence that the Epifagus plastid genome is transcribed, implies that plastid gene products play a role in processes other than photosynthesis and gene expression. Genes that are completely absent include not only photosynthetic genes, but surprisingly, genes encoding three subunits of RNA polymerase, four tRNAs and one ribosomal protein. In addition, only pseudogenes are found for two other tRNAs. Despite these defunct tRNA genes, codon and amino acid usage in Epifagus protein genes is normal. We therefore hypothesize that the expression of plastid genes in Epifagus relies on the import of nuclear encoded tRNAs and RNA polymerase from the cytoplasm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3281-3288
Number of pages8
JournalEMBO Journal
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1991

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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