Evolutionary divergence of promoters and spacers in the rDNA family of four Drosophila species. Implications for molecular coevolution in multigene families

J Mol Biol. 1987 Jun 5;195(3):525-42. doi: 10.1016/0022-2836(87)90181-1.


The organization and sequence of the rDNA multigene family of four Drosophila species (melanogaster, orena, virilis and hydei) have been compared in order to understand the quality and quantity of the differences which are involved with interspecific divergence of promoters and the polymerase I complexes (molecular coevolution). Each species has an intergenic spacer (IGS) made up of subrepeats which contain duplications of the promoter. Major structural and point-mutational differences exist, most of which have been spread by unequal crossingover through the family and species. Structural differences involve the types, lengths and copy-number of the IGS subrepeats, and the lengths and position of "unique" regions between blocks of repeats. The 240 base-pair repeat array shared by D. melanogaster and D. orena has been replaced by a 220 base-pair repeat, and the 95 and 330 base-pair arrays are absent altogether in D. virilis and D. hydei. The length of the "unique" region between the 240/220 base-pair arrays and the start of transcription varies, with the unusual situation of the last of the 220 repeats ending at the external transcribed spacer (ETS) boundary in D. virilis. Other structural differences involve regions of high cryptic simplicity arising from slippage in D. virilis and D. hydei IGSs. Sequence analysis of IGS and the ETSs indicates that the rDNA is not uniformly divergent throughout its length. Apart from the genes, there are regions of relatively high conservation covering the promoter regions and at some but not all potential RNA processing sites. The conserved promoter regions are more extensive within each pair of species D. melanogaster versus D. orena and D. virilis versus D. hydei, in keeping with their phylogenetic distances. Slippage-like mechanisms are involved with large numbers of deletions/insertions that make up the ETS differences between the species. Patterns of shared mutations between IGS subrepeats indicate stages of transition during rDNA differentiation by continual homogenization. The simultaneous operation of different turnover mechanisms, at different periodicities and rates, generates a complex picture of reorganization, some of which would influence the process of molecular coevolution in the family.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Evolution*
  • DNA, Ribosomal* / genetics*
  • Drosophila / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Multigene Family
  • Mutation
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid


  • DNA, Ribosomal