The Role of Repetitive Sequences in Repatterning of Major Ribosomal DNA Clusters in Lepidoptera

Genome Biol Evol. 2023 Jun 1;15(6):evad090. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evad090.


Genes for major ribosomal RNAs (rDNA) are present in multiple copies mainly organized in tandem arrays. The number and position of rDNA loci can change dynamically and their repatterning is presumably driven by other repetitive sequences. We explored a peculiar rDNA organization in several representatives of Lepidoptera with either extremely large or numerous rDNA clusters. We combined molecular cytogenetics with analyses of second- and third-generation sequencing data to show that rDNA spreads as a transcription unit and reveal association between rDNA and various repeats. Furthermore, we performed comparative long read analyses among the species with derived rDNA distribution and moths with a single rDNA locus, which is considered ancestral. Our results suggest that satellite arrays, rather than mobile elements, facilitate homology-mediated spread of rDNA via either integration of extrachromosomal rDNA circles or ectopic recombination. The latter arguably better explains preferential spread of rDNA into terminal regions of lepidopteran chromosomes as efficiency of ectopic recombination depends on the proximity of homologous sequences to telomeres.

Keywords: Lepidoptera; major ribosomal RNA genes; mobile elements; satellite.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromosomes
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Moths* / genetics
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid*


  • DNA, Ribosomal