Template switching in DNA replication can create and maintain RNA hairpins

Forskningsoutput: TidskriftsbidragArtikelVetenskapligPeer review


The evolutionary origin of RNA stem structures and the preservation of their base pairing under a spontaneous and random mutation process have puzzled theoretical evolutionary biologists. DNA replication-related template switching is a mutation mechanism that creates reverse-complement copies of sequence regions within a genome by replicating briefly along either the complementary or nascent DNA strand. Depending on the relative positions and context of the four switch points, this process may produce a reverse-complement repeat capable of forming the stem of a perfect DNA hairpin or fix the base pairing of an existing stem. Template switching is typically thought to trigger large structural changes, and its possible role in the origin and evolution of RNA genes has not been studied. Here, we show that the reconstructed ancestral histories of RNA genes contain mutation patterns consistent with the DNA replication-related template switching. In addition to multibase compensatory mutations, the mechanism can explain complex sequence changes, although mutations breaking the structure rarely get fixed in evolution. Our results suggest a solution for the long-standing dilemma of RNA gene evolution and demonstrate how template switching can both create perfect stems with a single mutation event and help maintaining the stem structure over time. Interestingly, template switching also provides an elegant explanation for the asymmetric base pair frequencies within RNA stems.

TidskriftProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Antal sidor8
StatusPublicerad - 25 jan. 2022
MoE-publikationstypA1 Tidskriftsartikel-refererad


  • 1184 Genetik, utvecklingsbiologi, fysiologi

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