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Ammonium sulfate fractionation of a Saccharomyces cerevisiae whole-cell extract yielded a preparation which carried out correct and efficient endonucleolytic cleavage and polyadenylation of yeast precursor mRNA substrates corresponding to a variety of yeast genes. These included CYC1 (iso-1-cytochrome c), HIS4 (histidine biosynthesis), GAL7 (galactose-1-phosphate uridyltransferase), H2B2 (histone H2B2), PRT2 (a protein of unknown function), and CBP1 (cytochrome b mRNA processing). The reaction processed these pre-mRNAs with varying efficiencies, with cleavage and polyadenylation exceeding 70% in some cases. In each case, the poly(A) tail corresponded to the addition of approximately 60 adenosine residues, which agrees with the usual length of poly(A) tails formed in vivo. Addition of cordycepin triphosphate or substitution of CTP for ATP in these reactions inhibited polyadenylation but not endonucleolytic cleavage and resulted in accumulation of the cleaved RNA product. Although this system readily generated yeast mRNA 3' ends, no processing occurred on a human alpha-globin pre-mRNA containing the highly conserved AAUAAA polyadenylation signal of higher eucaryotes. This sequence and adjacent signals used in mammalian systems are thus not sufficient to direct mRNA 3' end formation in yeast. Despite the lack of a highly conserved nucleotide sequence signal, the same purified fraction processed the 3' ends of a variety of unrelated yeast pre-mRNAs, suggesting that endonuclease cleavage and polyadenylation may produce the mature 3' ends of all mRNAs in S. cerevisiae.