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Mol Biol Evol. 2001 May;18(5):829-39.

Pseudogenes, junk DNA, and the dynamics of Rickettsia genomes.

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Department of Molecular Evolution, University of Uppsala, Uppsala, Sweden.


Studies of neutrally evolving sequences suggest that differences in eukaryotic genome sizes result from different rates of DNA loss. However, very few pseudogenes have been identified in microbial species, and the processes whereby genes and genomes deteriorate in bacteria remain largely unresolved. The typhus-causing agent, Rickettsia prowazekii, is exceptional in that as much as 24% of its 1.1-Mb genome consists of noncoding DNA and pseudogenes. To test the hypothesis that the noncoding DNA in the R. prowazekii genome represents degraded remnants of ancestral genes, we systematically examined all of the identified pseudogenes and their flanking sequences in three additional Rickettsia species. Consistent with the hypothesis, we observe sequence similarities between genes and pseudogenes in one species and intergenic DNA in another species. We show that the frequencies and average sizes of deletions are larger than insertions in neutrally evolving pseudogene sequences. Our results suggest that inactivated genetic material in the Rickettsia genomes deteriorates spontaneously due to a mutation bias for deletions and that the noncoding sequences represent DNA in the final stages of this degenerative process.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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