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Genetics. 1995 Sep;141(1):283-303.

Islands of complex DNA are widespread in Drosophila centric heterochromatin.

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  • 1Molecular Biology and Virology Laboratory, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California 92037, USA.


Heterochromatin is a ubiquitous yet poorly understood component of multicellular eukaryotic genomes. Major gaps exist in our knowledge of the nature and overall organization of DNA sequences present in heterochromatin. We have investigated the molecular structure of the 1 Mb of centric heterochromatin in the Drosophila minichromosome Dp1187. A genetic screen of irradiated minichromosomes yielded rearranged derivatives of Dp1187 whose structures were determined by pulsed-field Southern analysis and PCR. Three Dp1187 deletion derivatives and an inversion had one breakpoint in the euchromatin and one in the heterochromatin, providing direct molecular access to previously inaccessible parts of the heterochromatin. End-probed pulsed-field restriction mapping revealed the presence of at least three "islands" of complex DNA, Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora, constituting approximately one half of the Dp1187 heterochromatin. Pulsed-field Southern analysis demonstrated that Drosophila heterochromatin in general is composed of alternating blocks of complex DNA and simple satellite DNA. Cloning and sequencing of a small part of one island, Tahiti, demonstrated the presence of a retroposon. The implications of these findings to heterochromatin structure and function are discussed.

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