Background: Previously, we described the heat shock response in dipteran species belonging to the family Stratiomyidae that develop in thermally and chemically contrasting habitats including highly aggressive ones. Although all species studied exhibit high constitutive levels of Hsp70 accompanied by exceptionally high thermotolerance, we also detected characteristic interspecies differences in heat shock protein (Hsp) expression and survival after severe heat shock. Here, we analyzed genomic libraries from two Stratiomyidae species from thermally and chemically contrasting habitats and determined the structure and organization of their hsp70 clusters.
Results: Although the genomes of both species contain similar numbers of hsp70 genes, the spatial distribution of hsp70 copies differs characteristically. In a population of the eurytopic species Stratiomys singularior, which exists in thermally variable and chemically aggressive (hypersaline) conditions, the hsp70 copies form a tight cluster with approximately equal intergenic distances. In contrast, in a population of the stenotopic Oxycera pardalina that dwells in a stable cold spring, we did not find hsp70 copies in tandem orientation. In this species, the distance between individual hsp70 copies in the genome is very large, if they are linked at all. In O. pardalina we detected the hsp68 gene located next to a hsp70 copy in tandem orientation. Although the hsp70 coding sequences of S. singularior are highly homogenized via conversion, the structure and general arrangement of the hsp70 clusters are highly polymorphic, including gross aberrations, various deletions in intergenic regions, and insertion of incomplete Mariner transposons in close vicinity to the 3'-UTRs.
Conclusions: The hsp70 gene families in S. singularior and O. pardalina evolved quite differently from one another. We demonstrated clear evidence of homogenizing gene conversion in the S. singularior hsp70 genes, which form tight clusters in this species. In the case of the other species, O. pardalina, we found no clear trace of concerted evolution for the dispersed hsp70 genes. Furthermore, in the latter species we detected hsp70 pseudogenes, representing a hallmark of the birth-and-death process.