Gene conversion results in the equalization of genome copies in the polyploid haloarchaeon Haloferax volcanii


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Haloferax volcanii is highly polyploid and contains about 20 copies of the major chromosome. A heterozygous strain was constructed that contained two different types of genomes: the leuB locus contained either the wild-type leuB gene or a leuB:trpA gene introduced by gene replacement. As the trpA locus is devoid of the wild-type trpA gene, growth in the absence of both amino acids is only possible when both types of genomes are simultaneously present, exemplifying gene redundancy and the potential to form heterozygous cells as one possible evolutionary advantage of polyploidy. The heterozygous strain was grown (i) in the presence of tryptophan, selecting for the presence of leuB, (ii) in the presence of leucine selecting for leuB:trpA and (iii) in the absence of selection. Both types of genomes were quantified with real-time PCR. The first condition led to a complete loss of leuB:trpA-containing genomes, while under the second condition leuB-containing genomes were lost. Also in the absence of selection gene conversion led to a fast equalization of genomes and resulted in homozygous leuB-containing cells. Gene conversion leading to genome equalization can explain the escape from ‘Muller's ratchet’ as well as the ease of mutant construction using polyploid haloarchaea.