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Protist. 2013 May;164(3):369-79. doi: 10.1016/j.protis.2012.11.006. Epub 2013 Jan 24.

Extremely high copy numbers and polymorphisms of the rDNA operon estimated from single cell analysis of oligotrich and peritrich ciliates.

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Laboratory of Environmental Microbiology, Yantai Institute of Coastal Zone Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yantai 264003, China.


The copy number and sequence variation of the ribosomal DNA (rDNA) operon are of functional significance in evolution and ecology of organisms. However, the relationship between copy number and sequence variation of rDNA in protists has been rarely studied. Here we quantified rDNA copy numbers of oligotrich and peritrich ciliate species using single-cell quantitative PCR. We also examined the rDNA sequence variation by using single-cell PCR, cloning, and sequencing of multiple clones. We found that the rDNA copy numbers per cell were extremely high and different among even congeners, with the highest record of about 310,000. There was substantial intraindividual haplotype diversity and nucleotide diversity for the rDNA markers, with sequence differences primarily characterized by single nucleotide polymorphisms. Haplotype and nucleotide diversity was positively correlated to the rDNA copy number. Our findings provide evidence that: (1) ciliates generally have much higher rDNA copy numbers than other protists and fungi, which could lead to overestimation of the relative abundance of ciliates in environmental samples when rDNA sequence-based methodologies are used; and that (2) the rDNA might not always evolve in a strictly concerted manner in ciliates, which may raise problems in rDNA-based inference of species richness and phylogeny.

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