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Continued improvements in Next-Generation DNA/RNA sequencing coupled with advances in gene annotation have provided researchers access to a plethora of annotated genomes. Subsequent analyses of orthologous gene structures have identified numerous intron gain and loss events that have occurred both recently and in the very distant past. This research has afforded exceptional insight into the temporal and lineage-specific rates of intron gain and loss among various species throughout evolution. Numerous studies have also attempted to identify the molecular mechanisms of intron gain and loss. However, even after considerable effort, very little is known about these processes. In particular, the mechanism(s) of intron gain have proven exceptionally enigmatic and remain topics of considerable debate. Currently, there exists no definitive consensus as to what mechanism(s) may generate introns. Because many introns are known to affect gene expression, it is necessary to understand the molecular process(es) by which introns may be gained. Here we review the seven most commonly purported mechanisms of intron gain and, when possible, summarize molecular evidence for or against the occurrence of each of these mechanisms. Furthermore, we catalogue indirect evidence that supports the occurrence of each mechanism. Finally, because these proposed mechanisms fail to explain the mechanistic origin of many recently gained introns, we also look at trends that may aid researchers in identifying other potential mechanism(s) of intron gain.
This article was reviewed by Eugene Koonin, Scott Roy (nominated by W. Ford Doolittle), and John Logsdon.