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Genetics. Mar 1997; 145(3): 821–832.
PMCID: PMC1207866

The Evolution of Ribosomal DNA: Divergent Paralogues and Phylogenetic Implications


Although nuclear ribosomal DNA (rDNA) repeats evolve together through concerted evolution, some genomes contain a considerable diversity of paralogous rDNA. This diversity includes not only multiple functional loci but also putative pseudogenes and recombinants. We examined the occurrence of divergent paralogues and recombinants in Gossypium, Nicotiana, Tripsacum, Winteraceae, and Zea ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences. Some of the divergent paralogues are probably rDNA pseudogenes, since they have low predicted secondary structure stability, high substitution rates, and many deamination-driven substitutions at methylation sites. Under standard PCR conditions, the low stability paralogues amplified well, while many high-stability paralogues amplified poorly. Under highly denaturing PCR conditions (i.e., with dimethylsulfoxide), both low- and high-stability paralogues amplified well. We also found recombination between divergent paralogues. For phylogenetics, divergent ribosomal paralogues can aid in reconstructing ancestral states and thus serve as good outgroups. Divergent paralogues can also provide companion rDNA phylogenies. However, phylogeneticists must discriminate among families of divergent paralogues and recombinants or suffer from muddled and inaccurate organismal phylogenies.

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Selected References

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