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Mol Biol Evol. 2004 Sep;21(9):1704-11. Epub 2004 Jun 2.

Mechanisms underlying the evolution and maintenance of functionally heterogeneous 18S rRNA genes in Apicomplexans.

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  • 1Microbial Genomics and Bioprocessing Research Unit, National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Peoria, Illinois, USA.


In many species of the protist phylum Apicomplexa, ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene copies are structurally and functionally heterogeneous, owing to distinct requirements for rRNA-expression patterns at different developmental stages. The genomic mechanisms underlying the maintenance of this system over long-term evolutionary history are unclear. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate what processes underlie the long-term evolution of apicomplexan 18S genes in representative species. The results show that these genes evolve according to a birth-and-death model under strong purifying selection, thereby explaining how divergent 18S genes are generated over time while continuing to maintain their ability to produce fully functional rRNAs. In addition, it was found that Cryptosporidium parvum undergoes a rapid form of birth-and-death evolution that may facilitate host-specific adaptation, including that of type I and II strains found in humans. This represents the first case in which an rRNA gene family has been found to evolve under the birth-and-death model.

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