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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The IGS-ETS in Bacillus (Insecta Phasmida): molecular characterization and the relevance of sex in ribosomal DNA evolution

Andrea Ricci, Valerio Scali and Marco Passamonti*

Author Affiliations

Dipartimento di Biologia Evoluzionistica Sperimentale, University of BolognaVia Selmi 3, 40126 Bologna, Italy

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:278  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-278

Published: 9 October 2008

Abstract

Background

DNA encoding for ribosomal RNA (rDNA) is arranged in tandemly-repeated subunits, each containing ribosomal genes and non-coding spacers. Because tandemly-repeated, rDNA evolves under a balanced influence of selection and "concerted evolution", which homogenizes rDNA variants over the genome (through genomic turnover mechanisms) and the population (through sexuality).

Results

In this paper we analyzed the IGS-ETS of the automictic parthenogen Bacillus atticus and the bisexual B. grandii, two closely related stick-insect species. Both species share the same IGS-ETS structure and sequence, including a peculiar head-to-tail array of putative transcription enhancers, here named Bag530. Sequence variability of both IGS-ETS and Bag530 evidenced a neat geographic and subspecific clustering in B. grandii, while B. atticus shows a little but evident geographic structure. This was an unexpected result, since the parthenogen B. atticus should lack sequence fixation through sexuality. In B. atticus a new variant might spread in a given geographic area through colonization by an all-female clone, but we cannot discard the hypothesis that B. atticus was actually a bisexual taxon in that area at the time the new variant appeared. Moreover, a gene conversion event between two Bag530 variants of B. grandii benazzii and B. grandii maretimi suggested that rRNA might evolve according to the so-called "library hypothesis" model, through differential amplification of rDNA variants in different taxa.

Conclusion

On the whole, Bacillus rDNA evolution appears to be under a complex array of interacting mechanisms: homogenization may be achieved through genomic turnover that stabilizes DNA-binding protein interactions but, simultaneously, new sequence variants can be adopted, either by direct appearance of newly mutated repeats, or by competition among repeats, so that both DNA-binding proteins and repeat variants drive each other's evolution. All this, coupled with chromosome reshuffling due to sexuality (when present), might drive a quick fixation of new rDNA variants in the populations.