Phage T4 MobE Promotes Trans Homing of the Defunct Homing Endonuclease I-TevIII
Nucleic Acids Research
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Homing endonucleases are site-specific DNA endonucleases that typically function as mobile genetic elements by introducing a double-strand break (DSB) in genomes that lack the endonuclease, resulting in a unidirectional gene conversion event that mobilizes the homing endonuclease gene and flanking DNA. Here, we characterize phage T4-encoded mobE, a predicted free-standing HNH family homing endonuclease. We show that mobE is promoterless and dependent on upstream transcription for expression, and that an internal intrinsic terminator regulates mobE transcript levels. Crucially, in vivo mapping experiments revealed a MobE-dependent, strand-specific nick in the non-coding strand of the nrdB gene of phage T2. An internal deletion of the predicted HNH catalytic motif of MobE abolishes nicking, and reduces high-frequency inheritance of mobE. Sequence polymorphisms of progeny phage that inherit mobE are consistent with DSB repair pathways. Significantly, we found that mobility of the neighboring I-TevIII, a defunct homing endonuclease encoded within a group I intron interrupting the nrdB gene of phage T4, was dependent on an intact mobE gene. Thus, our data indicate that the stagnant nrdB intron and I-TevIII are mobilized in trans as a consequence of a MobE-dependent gene conversion event, facilitating persistence of genetic elements that have no inherent means of promoting their own mobility.