Introduction Back to Basics

Oppenheimer's words resonate with this book's theme, which is how both applied and theoretical science can emanate from answers to basic questions - whether they are being asked in model organisms or in test tubes - about molecular structure and mechanism. Thus, fundamental work on DNA, RNA and proteins, which encode or constitute homing endonucleases and inteins, is leading to refined theories of evolution in prokaryotes and eukaryotes on the one hand, and the development of laboratory tools and health-care reagents on the other.

Homing endonucleases and inteins, sometimes referred to as "protein in-trons", are linked at many levels. First, homing endonucleases are frequently encoded by introns that self-splice at the RNA level, in analogy to inteins that self-splice at the protein level. Second, homing endonucleases similar to those encoded by introns are often found embedded within and co-translated with inteins. Third, both types of intervening sequence are mobile elements, capable of movement from genome to genome. Fourth, the endonucle-ase component of both introns and inteins imparts their mobility. Fifth, each of these mobile intervening sequences is thought to have originated from invasion of the gene encoding the self-splicing element, the intron or intein, by

M. Belfort (e-mail: [email protected])

Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, Center for Medical Sciences, 150 New Scotland Avenue, Albany, New York 12208, USA

Nucleic Acids and Molecular Biology, Vol. 16 Marlene Belfort et al. (Eds.) Homing Endonucleases and Inteins © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005

an endonuclease gene, the primordial mobile element (Fig. 1). The final unifying theme is the exploitation of introns, inteins and homing endonucleases by chemists, geneticists, structural biologists and engineers, to generate reagents and tools that are useful in basic research, biotechnology and medicine. This chapter serves as an introduction to the volume entitled Homing Endonucleases and Inteins, which provides a wonderful illustration of the point that fundamental studies of structure and mechanism fuel evolutionary theory and technology development alike.

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