Formation of nucleolar polymorphisms in trisomic chickens and subsequent microevolution of rRNA gene clusters in diploids

J Hered. 1991 May-Jun;82(3):213-20. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.jhered.a111068.


Variations in nucleolar size are common in animals and man, yet the basis and significance of this variation are not well understood. In this report, we describe the generation de novo of individuals that express nucleolar size variations (polymorphisms) and the underlying basis for this phenotype in a vertebrate animal system (Gallus domesticus). Individuals that express nucleolar size polymorphisms were produced from mating chickens trisomic for the nucleolar organizer (NO) chromosome; 10%-18% of progeny demonstrated nucleolar polymorphisms. These progeny were incorporated into a diploid genetic line in which the polymorphic trait was observed to segregate in Mendelian fashion. An even more dramatic nucleolar size polymorphism (one macro- plus one micronucleolus) evolved in one diploid family over the course of only two generations. These individuals were used to ascertain that the polymorphic-nucleoli phenotype was expressed in tissues derived from the three primary embryonic cell layers in embryos and neonates. Image analysis was conducted on cells of these birds to quantitate the size differences between macro- and micronucleoli (5 mu2 versus 1 mu2, respectively). Finally, these birds were studied with the technique of in situ hybridization, which showed that gene number differences between homologous NO chromosomes (i.e., heterozygosity for rRNA gene copy number), underlies the polymorphic-nucleoli phenotype. Thus, the chicken emerges as an experimental system through which heterozygosity for the rRNA gene copy number can be induced, easily identified, transmitted, and expressed in all somatic tissues.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Chickens
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • Diploidy
  • Female
  • Male
  • Meiosis
  • Multigene Family*
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization
  • Nucleolus Organizer Region*
  • Pedigree
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics*
  • RNA, Ribosomal / genetics*
  • Trisomy


  • RNA, Ribosomal