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Int J Syst Evol Microbiol. 2001 Jul;51(Pt 4):1587-92.

Evolution of nuclear dualism in ciliates: a reanalysis in light of recent molecular data.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063, USA.


Ciliates are defined by the presence of dimorphic nuclei. Following conjugation, both the functional macronucleus (MAC) and the transcriptionally inactive germline micronucleus (MIC) develop from a zygotic nucleus. As the MAC develops, germline chromosomes are processed by excision of internal sequences, fragmentation and amplification of the remaining chromosomes. The extent of processing varies among lineages and, in all but one class of ciliates, the resulting MACs divide by an unusual process termed 'amitosis'. Research on these chromosomal rearrangements, largely from studies of only a handful of taxa from two of the nine classes of ciliates, has failed to find evidence of homologous processing among ciliate lineages. This observation, coupled with the structural diversity of MAC genomes among ciliates, led to the hypothesis of multiple origins of at least two MAC properties: (1) the ability to divide and (2) the mechanisms underlying chromosomal processing. Applying this logic to a more inclusive analysis of ciliate lineages, where an even greater diversity of MAC structure is observed, increases the potential number of origins of these MAC characteristics. Here, it is proposed that a single origin of a relatively plastic mechanism underlying MAC development better explains the observed diversity in MAC structure and processing among ciliates. Such a mechanism is suggested by the demonstration of epigenetic effects during MAC development in Paramecium and Tetrahymena.

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