Group II intron and gene targeting reactions in Drosophila melanogaster
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Mobile group II introns are retroelements that insert site-specifically into double-stranded DNA sites by a process called retrohoming. Retrohoming activity rests in a ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complex that contains an intron-encoded protein (IEP) and the excised intron RNA. The intron RNA uses its ribozyme activity to reverse splice into the top strand of the DNA target site, while the IEP cleaves the bottom DNA strand and reverse transcribes the inserted intron. My dissertation focuses on the Lactococcus lactis Ll.LtrB group II intron and its IEP, denoted LtrA. First, I investigated the ability of microinjected Ll.LtrB RNPs to retrohome into plasmid target sites in Drosophila melanogaster precellular blastoderm stage embryos. I found that injection of extra Mg2+ into the embryo was crucial for efficient retrohoming. Next, I compared retrohoming of linear and lariat forms of the intron RNP. Unlike lariat RNPs, retrohoming products of linear intron RNPs displayed heterogeneity at the 5’-intron insertion junction, including 5’-exon resection, intron truncation, and/or repair at regions of microhomology. To investigate whether these junctions result from cDNA ligation by non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ), I analyzed retrohoming of linear and lariat intron RNPs in D. melanogaster embryos with null mutations in the NHEJ genes lig4 and ku70, as well as the DNA repair polymerase polQ. I found that null mutations in each gene decreased retrohoming of linear compared to lariat intron RNPs. To determine whether novel activities of the LtrA protein contributed to the linear intron retrohoming 5’ junctions, I assayed the polymerase, non-templated nucleotide addition and template-switching activities of LtrA on oligonucleotide substrates mimicking the 5’-intron insertion junction in vitro. Although LtrA efficiently template switched to 5’-exon DNA substrates, the junctions produced differed from those observed in vivo, indicating that template switching is not a significant alternative to NHEJ in vivo. Finally, I designed and constructed retargeted Ll.LtrB RNPs to site-specifically insert into endogenous chromosomal DNA sites in D. melanogaster. I obtained intron integration efficiencies into chromosomal targets up to 0.4% in embryos and 0.021% in adult flies. These studies expand the utility of group II intron RNPs as gene targeting tools in model eukaryotic organisms.