Gene conversion of ribosomal DNA in Nicotiana tabacum is associated with undermethylated, decondensed and probably active gene units
We examined the structure, intranuclear distribution and activity of ribosomal DNA (rDNA) in Nicotiana sylvestris (2n=2x=24) and N. tomentosiformis (2n=2x=24) and compared these with patterns in N. tabacum (tobacco, 2n=4x=48). We also examined a long-established N. tabacum culture, TBY-2. Nicotiana tabacum is an allotetraploid thought to be derived from ancestors of N. sylvestris (S-genome donor) and N. tomentosiformis (T-genome donor). Nicotiana sylvestris has three rDNA loci, one locus each on chromosomes 10, 11, and 12. In root-tip meristematic interphase cells, the site on chromosome 12 remains condensed and inactive, while the sires on chromosomes 10 and 11 show activity at the proximal end of the locus only. Nicotiana tomentosiformis has one major locus on chromosome 3 showing activity and a minor, inactive locus on chromosome II. In N. tabacum cv. 095-55, there are four rDNA loci on T3, S10, S11/t and S12 (S11/t carries a small T-genome translocation). The locus on S12 remains condensed and inactive in root-tip meristematic cells while the others show activity, including decondensation at interphase and secondary constrictions at metaphase. Nicotiana tabacum DNA digested with methylcytosine-sensitive enzymes revealed a hybridisation pattern for rDNA that resembled that of N. tomentosiformis and not N. sylvestris. The data indicate that active, undermethylated genes are of the N. tomentosiformis type. Since S-genome chromosomes of N. tabacum show rDNA expression, the result indicates rDNA gene conversion of the active rDNA units on these chromosomes. Gene conversion in N. tabacum is consistent with the results of previous work. However, using primers specific for the S-genome rDNA intergenic sequences (IGS) in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) show that rDNA gene conversion has not gone to completion in N. tabacum. Furthermore, using methylation-insensitive restriction enzymes we demonstrate that about 8% of the rDNA units remain of the N. sylvestris type (from ca. 75% based on the sum of the rDNA copy numbers in the parents). Since the active genes are likely to be of an N. tomentosiformis type, the N. sylvestris type units are presumably contained within inactive loci (i.e. on chromosome S12). Nicotiana sylvestris has approximately three times as much rDNA as the other two species, resulting in much condensed rDNA at interphase. This species also has three classes of IGS, indicating gene conversion has not homogenised repeat length in this species. The results suggest that methylation and/or DNA condensation has reduced or prevented gene conversion from occurring at inactive genes at rDNA loci. Alternatively, active undermethylated units may be vulnerable to gene conversion, perhaps because they are decondensed and located in close proximity within the nucleolus at interphase. In TBY-2, restriction enzymes showed hybridisation patterns that were similar to, but different from, those of N. tabacum. In addition, TBY-2 has elevated rDNA copy number and variable numbers of rDNA loci, all indicating rDNA evolution in culture.