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Mol Biol Evol. 1998 Nov;15(11):1430-46.

The origin and evolution of variable-region helices in V4 and V7 of the small-subunit ribosomal RNA of branchiopod crustaceans.

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Department of Zoology, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.


We sequenced the V4 and V7 regions of the small-subunit ribosomal RNA (SSU rRNA) from 38 species of branchiopod crustaceans (e.g., Artemia, Daphnia, Triops) representing all eight extant orders. Ancestral large-bodied taxa in the orders Anostraca, Notostraca, Laevicaudata, and Spinicaudata (limnadiids and cyzicids) possess the typical secondary structure in these regions, whereas the spinicaudatan Cyclestheria and all of the cladocerans (Anomopoda, Ctenopoda, Onychopoda, and Haplopoda) possess three unique helices. Although the lengths and primary sequences of the distal ends of these helices are extremely variable, their locations, secondary structures, and primary sequences at the proximal end are conserved, indicating that they are homologous. This evidence supports the classical view that Cladocera is a monophyletic group and that the cyclestheriids are transitional between spinicaudatans and cladocerans. The single origin and persistence since the Permian of the unique cladoceran helices suggests that births and deaths of variable region helices have been rare. The broad range of sequence divergences observed among the cladoceran helices permitted us to make inferences about their evolution. Although their proximal ends are very GC-biased, there is a significant negative correlation between length and GC content due to an increasing proportion of U at their distal ends. Slippage-like processes occurring at unpaired nucleotides or bulges, which are very U-biased, are associated with both helix origin and runaway length expansion. The overall GC contents and lengths of V4 and V7 are highly correlated. More surprisingly, the lengths of these SSU rRNA variable regions are also highly correlated with the length of the large-subunit rRNA expansion segment, D2, indicating that mechanisms affecting length variation do so both across single genes and across genes in the rRNA gene family.

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