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Genetics. 1999 Feb;151(2):653-65.

Retrotransposable elements R1 and R2 in the rDNA units of Drosophila mercatorum: abnormal abdomen revisited.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14627, USA.


R1 and R2 retrotransposable elements are stable components of the 28S rRNA genes of arthropods. While each retrotransposition event leads to incremental losses of rDNA unit expression, little is known about the selective consequences of these elements on the host genome. Previous reports suggested that in the abnormal abdomen (aa) phenotype of Drosophila mercatorum, high levels of rDNA insertions (R1) in conjunction with the under-replication locus (ur), enable the utilization of different ecological conditions via a population level shift to younger age. We have sequenced the R1 and R2 elements of D. mercatorum and show that the levels of R1- and R2-inserted rDNA units were inaccurately scored in the original studies of aa, leading to several misinterpretations. In particular, contrary to earlier reports, aa flies differentially underreplicate R1- and R2-inserted rDNA units, like other species of Drosophila. However, aa flies do not undergo the lower level of underreplication of their functional rDNA units (general underreplication) that is seen in wild-type strains. The lack of general underreplication is expected to confer a selective advantage and, thus, can be interpreted as an adaptation to overcome high levels of R1 and R2 insertions. These results allow us to reconcile some of the apparently contradictory effects of aa and the bobbed phenotype found in other species of Drosophila.

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