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DOI: 10.1101/2023.05.22.539837

Massive invasion of organellar DNA drives nuclear genome evolution in Toxoplasma

S.Namasivayam C. Sun A. B. Bah ...+5 J. C. Kissinger
Toxoplasma gondii is a significant zoonotic protist pathogen that infects up to 1/3 of the human population. This apicomplexan parasite contains three genome sequences: nuclear (63 Mb); plastid organellar, ptDNA (35 kb); and mitochondrial organellar, mtDNA (5.9 kb of non-repetitive sequence). We find that the nuclear genome contains a significant amount of NUMTs (nuclear DNA of mitochondrial origin) and NUPTs (nuclear DNA of plastid origin) that are continuously acquired and represent a significant source of intraspecific genetic variation. NUOT (nuclear DNA of organellar origin) accretion has generated 1.6% of the extant T. gondii ME49 nuclear genome; the highest fraction ever reported in any organism. NUOTs are primarily found in organisms that retain the non-homologous end-joining repair pathway. Significant movement of organellar DNA was experimentally captured via amplicon sequencing of a CRISPR-induced double-strand break in non-homologous end-joining repair competent, but not ku80 mutant, Toxoplasma parasites. Comparisons with Neospora caninum, a species that diverged from Toxoplasma ~28 MY ago, revealed that the movement and fixation of 5 NUMTs predates the split of the two genera. This unexpected level of NUMT conservation suggests evolutionary constraint for cellular function. Most NUMT insertions reside within (60%) or nearby genes (23% within 1.5 kb) and reporter assays indicate that some NUMTs have the ability to function as cis-regulatory elements modulating gene expression. Together these findings portray a role for organellar sequence insertion in dynamically shaping the genomic architecture and likely contributing to adaptation and phenotypic changes in this important human pathogen.