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Mol Biol Evol. 1991 Jul;8(4):458-74.

Evolution of ribosomal RNA gene copy number on the sex chromosomes of Drosophila melanogaster.

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Department of Biology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park 16802.


A diverse array of cellular and evolutionary forces--including unequal crossing-over, magnification, compensation, and natural selection--is at play modulating the number of copies of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes on the X and Y chromosomes of Drosophila. Accurate estimates of naturally occurring distributions of copy numbers on both the X and Y chromosomes are needed in order to explore the evolutionary end result of these forces. Estimates of relative copy numbers of the ribosomal DNA repeat, as well as of the type I and type II inserts, were obtained for a series of 96 X chromosomes and 144 Y chromosomes by using densitometric measurements of slot blots of genomic DNA from adult D. melanogaster bearing appropriate deficiencies that reveal chromosome-specific copy numbers. Estimates of copy number were put on an absolute scale with slot blots having serial dilutions both of the repeat and of genomic DNA from nonpolytene larval brain and imaginal discs. The distributions of rRNA copy number are decidedly skewed, with a long tail toward higher copy numbers. These distributions were fitted by a population genetic model that posits three different types of exchange events--sister-chromatid exchange, intrachromatid exchange, and interchromosomal crossing-over. In addition, the model incorporates natural selection, because experimental evidence shows that there is a minimum number of functional elements necessary for survival. Adequate fits of the model were found, indicating that either natural selection also eliminates chromosomes with high copy number or that the rate of intrachromatid exchange exceeds the rate of interchromosomal exchange.

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