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Genetics. 1987 Dec;117(4):739-44.

Metallothionein gene duplications and metal tolerance in natural populations of Drosophila melanogaster.

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  • 1Department of Biology and Curriculum in Genetics, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 27599.


A search for duplications of the Drosophila melanogaster metallothionein gene (Mtn) yielded numerous examples of this type of chromosomal rearrangement. These duplications are distributed widely--we found them in samples from four continents, and they are functional--larvae carrying Mtn duplications produce more Mtn RNA and tolerate increased cadmium and copper concentrations. Six different duplication types were characterized by restriction-enzyme analyses using probes from the Mtn region. The restriction maps show that in four cases the sequences, ranging in size between 2.2 and 6.0 kb, are arranged as direct, tandem repeats; in two other cases, this basic pattern is modified by the insertion of a putative transposable element into one of the repeated units. Duplications of the D. melanogaster metallothionein gene such as those that we found in natural populations may represent early stages in the evolution of a gene family.

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