The ribosome, as a catalyst for protein synthesis, is universal and essential for all organisms. Here we describe the structure of the genes encoding human ribosomal proteins (RPs) and compare this class of genes among several eukaryotes. Using genomic and full-length cDNA sequences, we characterized 73 RP genes and found that (1) transcription starts at a C residue within a characteristic oligopyrimidine tract; (2) the promoter region is GC rich, but often has a TATA box or similar sequence element; (3) the genes are small (4.4 kb), but have as many as 5.6 exons on average; (4) the initiator ATG is in the first or second exon and is within ± 5 bp of the first intron boundaries in about half of cases; and (5) 5′- and 3′-UTRs are significantly smaller (42 bp and 56 bp, respectively) than the genome average. Comparison of RP genes from humans, Drosophila melanogaster, Caenorhabditis elegans, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae revealed the coding sequences to be highly conserved (63% homology on average), although gene size and the number of exons vary. The positions of the introns are also conserved among these species as follows: 44% of human introns are present at the same position in either D. melanogaster or C. elegans, suggesting RP genes are highly suitable for studying the evolution of introns.
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