Russian Doll Genes and Complex Chromosome Rearrangements in Oxytricha trifallax

G3 (Bethesda). 2018 May 4;8(5):1669-1674. doi: 10.1534/g3.118.200176.


Ciliates have two different types of nuclei per cell, with one acting as a somatic, transcriptionally active nucleus (macronucleus; abbr. MAC) and another serving as a germline nucleus (micronucleus; abbr. MIC). Furthermore, Oxytricha trifallax undergoes extensive genome rearrangements during sexual conjugation and post-zygotic development of daughter cells. These rearrangements are necessary because the precursor MIC loci are often both fragmented and scrambled, with respect to the corresponding MAC loci. Such genome architectures are remarkably tolerant of encrypted MIC loci, because RNA-guided processes during MAC development reorganize the gene fragments in the correct order to resemble the parental MAC sequence. Here, we describe the germline organization of several nested and highly scrambled genes in Oxytricha trifallax These include cases with multiple layers of nesting, plus highly interleaved or tangled precursor loci that appear to deviate from previously described patterns. We present mathematical methods to measure the degree of nesting between precursor MIC loci, and revisit a method for a mathematical description of scrambling. After applying these methods to the chromosome rearrangement maps of O. trifallax we describe cases of nested arrangements with up to five layers of embedded genes, as well as the most scrambled loci in O. trifallax.

Keywords: Ciliates; Genome rearrangement; Nanochromosomes; Nested genes; Scrambled genes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chromosomes / genetics*
  • DNA / genetics
  • Gene Rearrangement*
  • Genetic Loci
  • Macronucleus / genetics
  • Micronucleus, Germline / genetics
  • Oxytricha / genetics*
  • Recombination, Genetic / genetics


  • DNA