Gene transfer from the mitochondrion to the nucleus, a process of outstanding importance to the evolution of the eukaryotic cell, is an on-going phenomenon in higher plants. After transfer, the mitochondrial gene has to be adapted to the nuclear context by acquiring a new promoter and targeting information to direct the protein back to the organelle. To better understand the strategies developed by higher plants to transfer organellar genes during evolution, we investigated the fate of the mitochondrial RPL5-RPS14 locus in grasses. While maize mitochondrial genome does not contain RPS14 and RPL5 genes, wheat mitochondrial DNA contains an intact RPL5 gene and a nonfunctional RPS14 pseudogene. RPL5 and ΨRPS14 are co-transcribed and their transcripts are edited. In wheat, the functional RPS14 gene is located in the nucleus, within the intron of the respiratory complex II iron-sulfur subunit gene (SDH2). Its organization and expression mechanisms are similar to those previously described in maize and rice, allowing us to conclude that RPS14 transfer and nuclear activation occurred before divergence of these grasses. Unexpectedly, we found evidence for a more recent RPL5 transfer to the nucleus in wheat. This nuclear wheat RPL5 acquired its targeting information by duplication of an existing targeting presequence for another mitochondrial protein, ribosomal protein L4. Thus, mitochondrial and nuclear functional RPL5 genes appear to be maintained in wheat, supporting the hypothesis that in an intermediate stage of the transfer process, both nuclear and mitochondrial functional genes coexist. Finally, we show that RPL5 has been independently transferred to the nucleus in the maize lineage and has acquired regulatory elements for its expression and a mitochondrial targeting peptide from an unknown source.
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