Background: Most data concerning chromosome organization have been acquired from studies of a small number of model organisms, the majority of which are mammals. In plants with large genomes, the chromosomes are significantly larger than the animal chromosomes that have been studied to date, and it is possible that chromosome condensation in such plants was modified during evolution. Here, we analyzed chromosome condensation and decondensation processes in order to find structural mechanisms that allowed for an increase in chromosome size.
Results: We found that anaphase and telophase chromosomes of plants with large chromosomes (average 2C DNA content exceeded 0.8 pg per chromosome) contained chromatin-free cavities in their axial regions in contrast to well-characterized animal chromosomes, which have high chromatin density in the axial regions. Similar to animal chromosomes, two intermediates of chromatin folding were visible inside condensing (during prophase) and decondensing (during telophase) chromosomes of Nigella damascena: approximately 150 nm chromonemata and approximately 300 nm fibers. The spatial folding of the latter fibers occurs in a fundamentally different way than in animal chromosomes, which leads to the formation of chromosomes with axial chromatin-free cavities.
Conclusion: Different compaction topology, but not the number of compaction levels, allowed for the evolution of increased chromosome size in plants.
Keywords: Chromonema; Chromosome; Condensation; Evolution; Mitosis; Plants.