A new Drosophila spliceosomal intron position is common in plants
The 25-year-old debate about the origin of introns between proponents of "introns early" and "introns late" has yielded significant advances, yet important questions remain to be ascertained. One question concerns the density of introns in the last common ancestor of the three multicellular kingdoms. Approaches to this issue thus far have relied on counts of the numbers of identical intron positions across present-day taxa on the assumption that the introns at those sites are orthologous. However, dismissing parallel intron gain for those sites may be unwarranted, because various factors can potentially constrain the site of intron insertion. Demonstrating parallel intron gain is severely handicapped, because intron sequences often evolve exceedingly fast and intron phylogenetic distributions are usually ambiguous, such that alternative loss and gain scenarios cannot be clearly distinguished. We have identified an intron position that was gained independently in animals and plants in the xanthine dehydrogenase gene. The extremely disjointed phylogenetic distribution of the intron argues strongly for separate gain rather than recurrent loss. If the observed phylogenetic pattern had resulted from recurrent loss, all observational support previously gathered for the introns-late theory of intron origins based on the phylogenetic distribution of introns would be invalidated.