Genome evolution and the evolution of exon-shuffling - A review

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285 Citations (Scopus)


Recent studies on the genomes of protists, plants, fungi and animals confirm that the increase in genome size and gene number in different eukaryotic lineages is paralleled by a general decrease in genome compactness and an increase in the number and size of introns. It may thus be predicted that exon-shuffling has become increasingly significant with the evolution of larger, less compact genomes. To test the validity of this prediction, we have analyzed the evolutionary distribution of modular proteins that have clearly evolved by intronic recombination. The results of this analysis indicate that modular multidomain proteins produced by exon-shuffling are restricted in their evolutionary distribution. Although such proteins are present in all major groups of metazoa from sponges to chordates, there is practically no evidence for the presence of related modular proteins in other groups of eukaryotes. The biological significance of this difference in the composition of the proteomes of animals, fungi, plants and protists is best appreciated when these modular proteins are classified with respect to their biological function. The majority of these proteins can be assigned to functional categories that are inextricably linked to multicellularity of animals, and are of absolute importance in permitting animals to function in an integrated fashion: constituents of the extracellular matrix, proteases involved in tissue remodelling processes, various proteins of body fluids, membrane-associated proteins mediating cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions, membrane associated receptor proteins regulating cell-cell communications, etc. Although some basic types of modular proteins seem to be shared by all major groups of metazoa, there are also groups of modular proteins that appear to be restricted to certain evolutionary lineages. In summary, the results suggest that exon-shuffling acquired major significance at the time of metazoan radiation. It is interesting to note that the rise of exon-shuffling coincides with a spectacular burst of evolutionary creativity: the Big Bang of metazoan radiation. It seems probable that modular protein evolution by exon-shuffling has contributed significantly to this accelerated evolution of metazoa, since it facilitated the rapid construction of multidomain extracellular and cell surface proteins that are indispensable for multicellularity. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-114
Number of pages12
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sep 30 1999


  • Genome compactness
  • Introns
  • Metazoan evolution
  • Modular proteins
  • Modules

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics

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