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In some animals, mRNA may be modified after transcription by the addition of a 5' spliced leader sequence. This is known as spliced leader (SL) trans-splicing, and is of uncertain function and evolutionary origin. Here, we report the identification of SL trans-splicing in the colonial ascidian Botryllus schlosseri. Combining our own expressed sequence tag (EST) data with additional data from GenBank, we identify the dominant spliced leader sequence and show it to be similar to that of other ascidians and to that of Oikopleura dioica, a basally diverging tunicate. Gene Ontology analysis of B. schlosseri ESTs with and without a 5' spliced leader shows that genes encoding ribosomal proteins tend not to be trans-spliced, a character shared with the ascidian Ciona intestinalis. We also examine individual cases of genes that produce mRNAs that are SL trans-spliced in B. schlosseri but not in C. intestinalis. We conclude that SL trans-splicing evolved early in the tunicate lineage and shows stability over considerable evolutionary time. However, SL trans-splicing may be gained or lost in individual genes.

Original publication




Journal article


Dev Genes Evol

Publication Date





329 - 336


Animals, Evolution, Molecular, Expressed Sequence Tags, Gene Library, Molecular Sequence Data, RNA, Spliced Leader, Trans-Splicing, Urochordata