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J Mol Evol. 2009 Sep;69(3):207-16. doi: 10.1007/s00239-009-9251-4. Epub 2009 Jul 1.

Genome desertification in eutherians: can gene deserts explain the uneven distribution of genes in placental mammalian genomes?

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Lehrstuhl für Zoologie und Evolutionsbiologie, Department of Biology, University Konstanz, Constance 78457, Germany.


The evolution of genome size as well as structure and organization of genomes belongs among the key questions of genome biology. Here we show, based on a comparative analysis of 30 genomes, that there is generally a tight correlation between the number of genes per chromosome and the length of the respective chromosome in eukaryotic genomes. The surprising exceptions to this pattern are placental mammalian genomes. We identify the number and, more importantly, the uneven distribution of gene deserts among chromosomes, i.e., long (>500 kb) stretches of DNA that do not encode for genes, as the main contributing factor for the observed anomaly of eutherian genomes. Gene-rich placental mammalian chromosomes have smaller proportions of gene deserts and vice versa. We show that the uneven distribution of gene deserts is a derived character state of eutherians. The functional and evolutionary significance of this particular feature of eutherian genomes remains to be explained.

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