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Genetics. 2007 Feb;175(2):477-85.

Finely orchestrated movements: evolution of the ribosomal RNA genes.

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Department of Biology, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14627, USA.


Evolution of the tandemly repeated ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes is intriguing because in each species all units within the array are highly uniform in sequence but that sequence differs between species. In this review we summarize the origins of the current models to explain this process of concerted evolution, emphasizing early studies of recombination in yeast and more recent studies in Drosophila and mammalian systems. These studies suggest that unequal crossover is the major driving force in the evolution of the rRNA genes with sister chromatid exchange occurring more often than exchange between homologs. Gene conversion is also believed to play a role; however, direct evidence for its involvement has not been obtained. Remarkably, concerted evolution is so well orchestrated that even transposable elements that insert into a large fraction of the rRNA genes appear to have little effect on the process. Finally, we summarize data that suggest that recombination in the rDNA locus of higher eukaryotes is sufficiently frequent to monitor changes within a few generations.

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