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Group II introns are mobile ribozymes that are rare in bacterial genomes, often cohabiting with various mobile elements, and seldom interrupting housekeeping genes. What accounts for this distribution has not been well understood. Here, we demonstrate that Ll.LtrB, the group II intron residing in a relaxase gene on a conjugative plasmid from Lactococcus lactis, inhibits its host gene expression and restrains the naturally cohabiting mobile element from conjugative horizontal transfer. We show that reduction in gene expression is mainly at the mRNA level, and results from the interaction between exon-binding sequences (EBSs) in the intron and intron-binding sequences (IBSs) in the mRNA. The spliced intron targets the relaxase mRNA and reopens ligated exons, causing major mRNA loss. Taken together, this study provides an explanation for the distribution and paucity of group II introns in bacteria, and suggests a potential force for those introns to evolve into spliceosomal introns.


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