Organisation of the plant genome in chromosomes

Authors


(fax +44 116 252 3330; e-mail phh4@le.ac.uk or ts32@le.ac.uk).

Summary

The plant genome is organized into chromosomes that provide the structure for the genetic linkage groups and allow faithful replication, transcription and transmission of the hereditary information. Genome sizes in plants are remarkably diverse, with a 2350-fold range from 63 to 149 000 Mb, divided into n = 2 to n = approximately 600 chromosomes. Despite this huge range, structural features of chromosomes like centromeres, telomeres and chromatin packaging are well-conserved. The smallest genomes consist of mostly coding and regulatory DNA sequences present in low copy, along with highly repeated rDNA (rRNA genes and intergenic spacers), centromeric and telomeric repetitive DNA and some transposable elements. The larger genomes have similar numbers of genes, with abundant tandemly repeated sequence motifs, and transposable elements alone represent more than half the DNA present. Chromosomes evolve by fission, fusion, duplication and insertion events, allowing evolution of chromosome size and chromosome number. A combination of sequence analysis, genetic mapping and molecular cytogenetic methods with comparative analysis, all only becoming widely available in the 21st century, is elucidating the exact nature of the chromosome evolution events at all timescales, from the base of the plant kingdom, to intraspecific or hybridization events associated with recent plant breeding. As well as being of fundamental interest, understanding and exploiting evolutionary mechanisms in plant genomes is likely to be a key to crop development for food production.

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