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Curr Genet. 1995 Feb;27(3):257-62.

Variable numbers of simple tandem repeats make birds of the order ciconiiformes heteroplasmic in their mitochondrial genomes.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology, University of Tromsø, Norway.


We have analyzed a variable domain of the mitochondrial DNA control region of 18 avian species. Intra-individual length variation was identified and characterized in 15 species. The occurrence of heteroplasmy among species is phylogenetically consistent with a current classification of birds. Polymerase chain reaction amplifications, direct sequencing, and Southern analysis of mitochondrial DNA showed that the heteroplasmy is due to variable numbers of direct repeats in a tandem organization, located in the control region close to the tRNAPhe gene. The tandem repeats consist of short sequence motifs that vary in size from 4 to 32 base pairs between species. Sequence complexity of the repeat motifs was low, with almost exclusively Ts and Gs in the heavy-strand. Extensive variation in the copy number of the repeats was seen both intra-specifically and within individuals. This is the first report of mitochondrial heteroplasmy characterized at the sequence level in birds.

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