Unusual structure of ribosomal DNA in the copepod Tigriopus californicus: Intergenic spacer sequences lack internal subrepeats

R. S. Burton, E. C. Metz, J. M. Flowers, C. S. Willett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Eukaryotic nuclear ribosomal DNA (rDNA) is typically arranged as a series of tandem repeats coding for 18S, 5.8S, and 28S ribosomal RNAs. Transcription of rDNA repeats is initiated in the intergenic spacer (IGS) region upstream of the 18S gene. The IGS region itself typically consists of a set of subrepeats that function as transcriptional enhancers. Two important evolutionary forces have been proposed to act on the IGS region: first, selection may favor changes in the number of subrepeats that adaptively adjust rates of rDNA transcription, and second, coevolution of IGS sequence with RNA polymerase I transcription factors may lead to species specificity of the rDNA transcription machinery. To investigate the potential role of these forces on population differentiation and hybrid breakdown in the intertidal copepod Tigriopus californicus, we have characterized the rDNA of five T. californicus populations from the Pacific Coast of North America and one sample of T. brevicornicus from Scotland. Major findings are as follows: (1) the structural genes for 18S and 28S are highly conserved across T. californicus populations, in contrast to other nuclear and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genes previously studied in these populations. (2) There is extensive differentiation among populations in the IGS region; in the extreme, no homology is observed across the IGS sequences (>2 kb) from the two Tigriopus species. (3) None of the Tigriopus IGS sequences have the subrepeat structure common to other eukaryotic IGS regions. (4) Segregation of rDNA in laboratory crosses indicates that rDNA is located on at least two separate chromosomes in T. californicus. These data suggest that although IGS length polymorphism does not appear to play the adaptive role hypothesized in some other eukaryotic systems, sequence divergence in the rDNA promoter region within the IGS could lead to population specificity of transcription in hybrids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-113
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Jan 3 2005


  • Genetic variation
  • Population differentiation
  • Transcribed spacers
  • rRNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics


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