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Keywords:

  • holocentric chromosomes;
  • meiosis;
  • parthenogenesis;
  • heterochromatin;
  • aphids

ABSTRACT

In recent years aphids, with their well-defined polyphenism, have become favoured as model organisms for the study of epigenetic processes. The availability of the pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) genome sequence has engendered much research aimed at elucidating the mechanisms by which the phenotypic plasticity of aphids is inherited and controlled. Yet so far this research effort has paid little attention to the cytogenetic processes that play a vital part in the organisation, expression and inheritance of the aphid genome. Aphids have holocentric chromosomes, which have very different properties from the chromosomes with localised centromeres that are found in most other organisms. Here we review the diverse forms of aphid chromosome behaviour that occur during sex determination and male and female meiosis, often in response to environmental changes and mediated by endocrine factors. Remarkable differences occur, even between related species, that could have significant effects on the inheritance of all or parts of the genome. In relation to this, we review the particular features of the distribution of heterochromatin, rDNA genes and other repetitive DNA in aphid chromosomes, and discuss the part that these may play in the epigenetic modification of chromatin structure and function.