Testing the exon theory of genes: the evidence from protein structure

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Science  08 Jul 1994:
Vol. 265, Issue 5169, pp. 202-207
DOI: 10.1126/science.8023140


A tendency for exons to correspond to discrete units of protein structure in protein-coding genes of ancient origin would provide clear evidence in favor of the exon theory of genes, which proposes that split genes arose not by insertion of introns into unsplit genes, but from combinations of primordial mini-genes (exons) separated by spacers (introns). Although putative examples of such correspondence have strongly influenced previous debate on the origin of introns, a general correspondence has not been rigorously proved. Objective methods for detecting correspondences were developed and applied to four examples that have been cited previously as evidence of the exon theory of genes. No significant correspondence between exons and units of protein structure was detected, suggesting that the putative correspondence does not exist and that the exon theory of genes is untenable.