Stochastic developmental variation in the ratio of allelic rDNAs among newly differentiated, heterozygous macronuclei of Tetrahymena thermophila

Dev Genet. 1992;13(1):87-93. doi: 10.1002/dvg.1020130114.


Ciliates possess nuclear dimorphism, i.e., they carry two structurally and functionally differentiated types of nuclei. The micronucleus and macronucleus serve as the germline and somatic nuclei, respectively, of the cell. The macronucleus differentiates from a mitotic sister of the micronucleus once per life cycle. Macronuclear differentiation is accompanied by a developmentally programmed set of DNA rearrangements, including chromosome fragmentation, telomere addition, and amplification. Given the diploidy of the MAC anlage, are both homologous copies of a chromosome processed and amplified equally and simultaneously in an individual differentiating MAC? We have approached this question for the case of the rDNA, exploiting previously identified DNA polymorphisms and the sensitivity of PCR. We determined allelic ratios in individual caryonide cells, i.e., the cells carrying the primary products of MAC differentiation, prior to the first division of the newly differentiated MAC. We observed stochastic variability in allelic ratios among caryonides that start with genetically identical heterozygous MACs. Either rDNA type can be in the majority. Appropriate controls make it unlikely that the ratios observed were significantly affected by variation in the assay itself. The variability may well result from the statistical variation associated with the relative timing of individual biochemical events initiating the processing and/or amplification of a few rDNA precursor molecules, presumably 4-8 at the most, in a MAC anlage. In addition to this stochastic variability, we observed a small but distinct bias in favor of the C3 rDNA. Thus the replication advantage of C3 relative to B rDNA in heterozygous MACs, previously detected during vegetative multiplication, may begin to be expressed during developmental amplification.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics*
  • Heterozygote
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Tetrahymena thermophila / cytology
  • Tetrahymena thermophila / genetics
  • Tetrahymena thermophila / growth & development*


  • DNA, Ribosomal