The diploid nuclear DNA contents in eight species of fish have been found to differ over a 178-fold range. Among these, lungfish have the highest values, and teleosts have the lowest. Shark and coelacanth have intermediate values, which are close to the highest teleost values. Such great variation in DNA contents among vertebrates indicates that fundamental differences in chromosome structure and DNA function have arisen during evolution.

In order to gain insight into the organization of genes in organisms with different DNA contents, the relative proportion of the genome coding for ribosomal RNA was determined for five species, winter flounder, goldfish, rainbow trout, dogfish shark, and Australian lungfish. The proportion of ribosomal DNA (r-DNA) was found to vary over a six-fold range from flounder to lungfish. In general, species with higher DNA contents have lower proportions of r-DNA. The r-DNA proportion of trout is consistent with the view that salmonids are recent tetraploids. If the goldfish is also considered a tetraploid, then its r-DNA proportion indicates a loss of ribosomal genes subsequent to polyploidization. Measurement of the ribosomal genes in fish DNA's was based on hybridization with yeast ribosomal RNA, which was assumed to be equally homologous with the r-DNA of all species studied.

The activity of multiple copies of genes was studied by measuring the volumes of blood cells in five species. It was found that erythrocyte volume correlated both with ribosomal gene multiplicity and with total DNA content. The size of goldfish and trout erythrocytes suggests that cell volume in these tetraploids has declined to the ancestral diploid level.

It is concluded that the multiplicity of specific repetitive genes varies out of proportion with the DNA content, contrary to expectation based on simple polyteny. This variation in the proportions of specific genes and the large variations in total DNA content among fish are thought to be due to a combination of tetraploidy and extensive linear replication of specific chromosomal regions during evolution.