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Chromosoma. 1978 Mar 22;66(1):71-98.

Genetic studies on heterochromatin in Drosophila melanogaster and their implications for the functions of satellite DNA.


In Drosophila melanogaster the centromeric heterochromatin of all chromosomes consists almost entirely of several different satellite DNA sequences. In view of this we have examined by genetic means the meiotic consequences of X chromosomes with partial deletions of their heterochromatin, and have found that the amount and position of recombination on each heterochromatically deleted X is substantially different from that of a normal X. It appears that the amount of heterochromatin is important in modifying the "centromere effect" on recombination.--In all the deleted Xs tested, chromosome segregation is not appreciably altered from that of a nondeleted control chromosome. Thus satellite DNA does not appear to be an important factor in determining the regular segregation of sex chromosomes in Drosophila. Additionally, since X chromosomes with massive satellite DNA deficiencies are able to participate in a chromocenter within salivary gland nuclei, a major role of satellite DNA in chromocenter formation in this tissue is also quite unlikely.--In order to examine the mechanisms by which the amount of satellite DNA is increased or decreased in vivo, we have measured cytologically the frequency of spontaneous sister chromatid exchanges in a ring Y chromosome which is entirely heterochromatic and consists almost exclusively of satellite DNA. In larval neuroblast cells the frequency of spontaneous SCE in this Y is approximately 0.3% per cell division. Since there is no meiotic recombination in D. melanogaster males and since meiotic recombination in the female does not occur in heterochromatin, our results provide a minimum estimate of the in vivo frequency of SCE in C-banded heterochromatin (which is predominantly simple sequence DNA), without the usual complications of substituted base analogs, incorporated radioactive label or substantial genetic content.--We emphasise that: (a) satellite DNA is not implicated in any major way in recognition processes such as meiotic homologue recognition or chromocenter formation in salivaries, (b) there is likely to be continuous variation in the amount of satellite DNA between individuals of a species; and (c) the amount of satellite DNA can have a crucial functional role in the meiotic recombination system.

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