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Genetics. 1996 Dec;144(4):1479-87.

Evolutionary conservation of sequences directing chromosome breakage and rDNA palindrome formation in tetrahymenine ciliates.

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Division of Basic Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington 98104, USA.


Extensive, programmed chromosome breakage occurs during formation of the somatic macronucleus of ciliated protozoa. The cis-acting signal directing breakage has been most rigorously defined in Tetrahymena thermophila, where it consists of a 15-bp DNA sequence known as Cbs, for chromosome breakage sequence. We have identified sequences identical or nearly identical to the T. thermophila Cbs at sites of breakage flanking the germline micronuclear rDNA locus of six additional species of Tetrahymena as well as members of two related genera. Other general features of the breakage site are also conserved, but surprisingly, the orientation and number of copies of Cbs are not always conserved, suggesting the occurrence of germline rearrangement events over evolutionary time. At one end of the T. thermophila micronuclear rDNA locus, a pair of short inverted repeats adjacent to Cbs directs the formation of a giant palindromic molecule. We have examined the corresponding sequences from two other Tetrahymena species. We find the sequence to be partially conserved, as previously implied from analysis of macronuclear rDNA, but of variable length and organization.

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