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Genetics. 2014 Apr;196(4):1007-16. doi: 10.1534/genetics.113.160556. Epub 2014 Jan 29.

Discovery of supernumerary B chromosomes in Drosophila melanogaster.

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Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Kansas City, Missouri 64110.


B chromosomes are small, heterochromatic chromosomes that are transmitted in a non-Mendelian manner. We have identified a stock of Drosophila melanogaster that recently (within the last decade) acquired an average of 10 B chromosomes per fly. These B chromosomes are transmitted by both males and females and can be maintained for multiple generations in a wild-type genetic background despite the fact that they cause high levels of 4(th) chromosome meiotic nondisjunction in females. Most curiously, these B chromosomes are mitotically unstable, suggesting either the absence of critical chromosomal sites or the inability of the meiotic or mitotic systems to cope with many additional chromosomes. These B chromosomes also contain centromeres and are primarily composed of the heterochromatic AATAT satellite sequence. Although the AATAT sequence comprises the majority of the 4(th) chromosome heterochromatin, the B chromosomes lack most, if not all, 4(th) chromosome euchromatin. Presumably as a consequence of their heterochromatic content, these B chromosomes significantly modify position-effect variegation in two separate reporter systems, acting as enhancers of variegation in one case and suppressors in the other. The identification of B chromosomes in a genetically tractable organism like D. melanogaster will facilitate studies of chromosome evolution and the analysis of the mechanisms by which meiotic and mitotic processes cope with additional chromosomes.


meiosis; minichromosomes; mitotic instability; supernumerary chromosomes

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