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Genetics. 2009 Dec;183(4):1227-34. doi: 10.1534/genetics.109.105569. Epub 2009 Sep 21.

Gene duplication and hypermutation of the pathogen Resistance gene SNC1 in the Arabidopsis bal variant.

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Department of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, USA.


The bal defect in the Arabidopsis thaliana Columbia strain was spontaneously generated in an inbred ddm1 (decrease in DNA methylation 1) mutant background in which various genetic and epigenetic alterations accumulate. The bal variant displays short stature and curled leaves due to the constitutive activation of defense signaling. These bal phenotypes are metastable and phenotypic suppression is evident in more than one-third of ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS)-treated bal M(1) plants. The semidominant bal allele maps to the RPP5 (recognition of Peronospora parasitica 5) locus, which includes a cluster of disease Resistance (R) genes, many of which show an increase in steady-state expression levels in the bal variant. Here, we report that activation of RPP5 locus R genes and dwarfing in the bal variant are caused by a 55-kb duplication within the RPP5 locus. Although many RPP5 locus R genes are duplicated in the bal variant, the duplication of SNC1 alone is necessary and sufficient for the phenotypic changes in the bal variant. Missense mutations in the SNC1 gene were identified in all three phenotypically suppressed EMS-treated bal lines investigated, indicating that the high-frequency phenotypic instability induced by EMS treatment is caused by a genetic mechanism. We propose that the high degree of variation in SNC1-related sequences among Arabidopsis natural accessions follows the two-step mechanism observed in the bal variant: gene duplication followed by hypermutation.

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