Though spliceosomal introns are a major structural component of most eukaryotic genes and intron density varies by more than three orders of magnitude among eukaryotes [1–3], the origins of introns are poorly understood, and only a few cases of unambiguous intron gain are known [4–8]. We utilized population genomic comparisons of three closely related fungi to identify crucial transitory phases of intron gain and loss. We found 74 intron positions showing intraspecific presence-absence polymorphisms (PAPs) for the entire intron. Population genetic analyses identified intron PAPs at different stages of fixation and showed that intron gain or loss was very recent. We found direct support for extensive intron transposition among unrelated genes. A substantial proportion of highly similar introns in the genome either were recently gained or showed a transient phase of intron PAP. We also identified an intron transfer among paralogous genes that created a new intron. Intron loss was due mainly to homologous recombination involving reverse-transcribed mRNA. The large number of intron positions in transient phases of either intron gain or loss shows that intron evolution is much faster than previously thought and provides an excellent model to study molecular mechanisms of intron gain.
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