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Cell. 1982 Mar;28(3):551-61.

Directionality of yeast mating-type interconversion.


The mating-type a and alpha alleles of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae interconvert by a transposition-substitution reaction where replicas of the silent mating loci, at HML and HMR, are transmitted to the expressed mating-type locus (MAT). HML is on the left arm and HMR on the right arm, while MAT is in the middle of chromosome III. Cells with the genotype HML alpha HMRa switch mating type efficiently at a frequency of about 86%. Since well over 50% of the cells switch, it is thought that switches do not occur randomly, but are directed to occur to the opposite mating-type allele. In contrast, we report that strains possessing the reverse HMLa HMR alpha arrangement switch (phenotype) inefficiently at a maximum of about 6%. The basis for this apparent reduced frequency of switching is that these strains preferentially yield futile homologous MAT locus switches--that is, MATa to MATa and MAT alpha to MAT alpha--and consequently, most of these events are undetected. We used genetically marked HM loci to demonstrate that alpha cells preferentially choose HMR as donor and a cells preferentially choose HML as donor, irrespective of the genetic content of the silent loci. Because of this feature, HML alpha HMRa strains generate predominantly heterologous while HMLa HMR alpha strains produce predominantly homologous MAT switches. The control for directionality of switching therefore is not at the level of transposing heterologous mating-type information, but only at the level of choosing HML versus HMR as the donor. In strains where the preferred donor locus is deleted, the inefficient donor becomes capable of donating efficiently. Thus the preference seems to be mediated by competition between the HM loci for donating information to MAT.

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