Plants maintain organelle genomes that are descended from ancient microbes. Ages ago, these ancient microbes were engulfed by larger cells, beginning a process of co-evolution we now call the endo-symbiotic theory. Over time, DNA from the engulfed microbe was transferred to the genome of the larger engulfing cell, eventually losing the ability to be free-living, and establishing a permanent residency in the larger cell. Similarly, the larger cell came to rely so much on the microbe it had engulfed, that it too lost its ability to survive without it. Thus, mitochondria and plastids were born. Nearly all multicellular eukaryotes possess mitochondria; however, different evolutionary pressures have created drastically different genomes in plants versus animals. For one, animals have very compact, efficient mitochondrial genomes, with about 97% of the DNA coding for genes. These genomes are very consistent in size across different animal species. Plants, on the other hand, have mitochondrial genomes 10 to more than 100 times as large as animal mitochondrial genomes. Plants also use a variety of mechanisms to replicate and maintain their DNA. Central to these mechanisms are nuclear-encoded, organelle targeted replication proteins. To date, there are two DNA polymerases that have been identified in plant mitochondria and chloroplasts, Pol1A and Pol1B. There is also a DNA helicase-primase that localizes to mitochondria and chloroplasts called Twinkle, which has similarities to the gp4 protein from T7 phage. In this dissertation, we discuss the roles of the polymerases and the effects of mutating the Pol1A and Pol1B genes respectively. We show that organelle genome copy number decreases slightly and over time but with little effect on plant development. We also detail the interactions between Twinkle and Pol1A or Pol1B. Plants possess the same organellar proteins found in animal mitochondria, which are homologs to T7 phage DNA replication proteins. We show that similar to animals and some phage, plants utilize the same proteins in similar interactions to form the basis of a DNA replisome. However, we also show that plants mutated for Twinkle protein show no discernable growth defects, suggesting there are alternative replication mechanisms available to plant mitochondria that are not accessible in animals.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Microbiology and Molecular Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





Arabidopsis, DNA replication, plant organelles, DNA polymerase, DNA helicase-primase, qPCR, yeast-two-hybrid