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J Mol Evol. 2000 Oct;51(4):305-17.

Gene conversion drives within genic sequences: concerted evolution of ribosomal RNA genes in bacteria and archaea.

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Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, 3001 12e Avenue Nord, Québec, J1H 5N4 Canada.


Multiple copies of a given ribosomal RNA gene family undergo concerted evolution such that sequences of all gene copies are virtually identical within a species although they diverge normally between species. In eukaryotes, gene conversion and unequal crossing over are the proposed mechanisms for concerted evolution of tandemly repeated sequences, whereas dispersed genes are homogenized by gene conversion. However, the homogenization mechanisms for multiple-copy, normally dispersed, prokaryotic rRNA genes are not well understood. Here we compared the sequences of multiple paralogous rRNA genes within a genome in 12 prokaryotic organisms that have multiple copies of the rRNA genes. Within a genome, putative sequence conversion tracts were found throughout the entire length of each individual rRNA genes and their immediate flanks. Individual conversion events convert only a short sequence tract, and the conversion partners can be any paralogous genes within the genome. Interestingly, the genic sequences undergo much slower divergence than their flanking sequences. Moreover, genomic context and operon organization do not affect rRNA gene homogenization. Thus, gene conversion underlies concerted evolution of bacterial rRNA genes, which normally occurs within genic sequences, and homogenization of flanking regions may result from co-conversion with the genic sequence.

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