Non-Mendelian Inheritance of Paralogs of 2 Cytoskeletal Genes in the Ciliate Chilodonella uncinata

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Recognition of the role of non-Mendelian inheritance is on the rise, particularly as epigenetic phenomena are shown to shape the transformation of genomes into phenotypes. Ciliates provide a model system in which to explore the role of epigenetics because ciliates have both a germ line (micronuclear) and somatic (macronuclear) genome within every cell. In the ciliate Chilodonella uncinata, the macronucleus is extensively fragmented such that many genes end up on their own chromosomes. Hence, it is possible to track the fate of unlinked genes within macronuclei of C. uncinata. Here we demonstrate that the pattern of inheritance in isolates of C. uncinata is complex and involves both Mendelian transmission between micronuclei and macronuclei and epigenetic phenomena. The macronuclei from 2 isolates of C. uncinata and their progeny share identical rDNA loci and 2 identical β-tubulin paralogs, yet have different actin paralogs and some β-tubulin paralogs that are not shared. We propose a model in which all the divergent paralogs are present in the ciliate micronuclei. Under this model, different paralogs are retained in developing macronuclei following conjugation. We further speculate that an epigenetic mechanism, such as RNA interference, is involved in selective retention of specific paralogs within lines. This system allows the exploration of epigenetic phenomena that shape somatic genomes and provides parallels to studies of the development of somatic nuclei within animals.

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