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Mol Biol Evol. 1996 Nov;13(9):1242-54.

Gene rearrangements in snake mitochondrial genomes: highly concerted evolution of control-region-like sequences duplicated and inserted into a tRNA gene cluster.

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Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Nagoya University, Japan.


Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) regions corresponding to two major tRNA gene clusters were amplified and sequenced for the Japanese pit viper, himehabu. In one of these clusters, which in most vertebrates characterized to date contains three tightly connected genes for tRNA(Ile), and tRNA(Gln), and tRNA(Met), a sequence of approximately 1.3 kb was found to be inserted between the genes for tRNA(Ile) and tRNA(Gln). The insert consists of a control-region-like sequence possessing some conserved sequence blocks, and short flanking sequences which may be folded into tRNA(Pro), tRNA(Phe), and tRNA(Leu) genes. Several other snakes belonging to different families were also found to possess a control-region-like sequence and tRNA(Leu) gene between the tRNA(Ile)and tRNA(Gln) genes. We also sequenced a region surrounded by genes for cytochrome b and 12S rRNA, where the control region and genes for tRNA(Pro) and tRNA(Phe) are normally located in the mtDNAs of most vertebrates. In this region of three examined snakes, a control-region-like sequence exists that is almost completely identical to the one found between the tRNA(Ile) and tRNA(Gln) genes. The mtDNAs of these snakes thus possess two nearly identical control-region-like sequences which are otherwise divergent to a large extent between the species. These results suggest that the duplicate state of the control-region-like sequences has long persisted in snake mtDNAs, possibly since the original insertion of the control-region-like sequence and tRNA(Leu) gene into the tRNA gene cluster, which occurred in the early stage of the divergence of snakes. It is also suggested that the duplicated control-region-like sequences at two distant locations of mtDNA have evolved concertedly by a mechanism such as frequent gene conversion. The secondary structures of the determined tRNA genes point to the operation of simplification pressure on the T psi C arm of snake mitochondrial tRNAs.

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