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Gene. 2006 Nov 15;383:81-92. Epub 2006 Jul 28.

Intra-specific variability and unusual organization of the repetitive units in a satellite DNA from Rana dalmatina: molecular evidence of a new mechanism of DNA repair acting on satellite DNA.

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  • 1Dipartimento di Medicina Clinica e Sperimentale, Universit√† di Napoli Federico II, Via Pansini 5, I-80131 Napoli, Italy.


We have characterized the S1 satellite from eight European populations of Rana dalmatina by Southern blot, cloning and a new method that determines the sequence variability of repetitive units in the genome. This report completes our previous studies on this satellite DNA family, thus providing the first characterization of the overall variability of the structure and genomic organization of a satellite DNA within a species and among related species. The S1 satellite from R. dalmatina has a pericentromeric location on ten chromosome pairs and presents two homologous repeats S1a (494 bp) and S1b (332 bp), mostly organized as composite S1a-S1b repetitive units. In other brown frog species, both repeats have different sequences and locations, and are usually organized as separate arrays, although composite S1a-S1b repeats represent a minor, widely variable component in Rana italica. The average genomic sequences indicate that the species contains an enormous number of variants of each repeat derived from a unique, species-specific common sequence. The repeat variability is restricted to specific base changes in specific sequence positions in all population samples. Our data show that the structure and evolution of S1 satellite family is not due to crossing-over and gene conversion, but to a mechanism that maintains the ability of the satellite DNA to assemble in constitutive heterochromatin by replacing altered satellite segments with new arrays generated by rolling circle amplification. The mode of action of this repair process not only directly explains the intra- and inter-specific variability of the structure and organization of the S1 satellite repeats from European brown frogs, but also accounts for all general features of satellite DNA in eukaryotes, including its discontinuous evolution. This repair mechanism can maintain the satellite structure in a species indefinitely, but also promote a rapid generation of new variants or types of satellite DNA when environmental conditions favor the formation of new species.

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