Long, Polymorphic Microsatellites in Simple Organisms

Dawn Field, Christopher Wills


We have examined the phylogenetic distribution of the longest, perfect microsatellites in GenBank. Despite the large contributions of model higher-eukaryotic organisms to GenBank, the selective cloning of long microsatellites from these organisms as genetic markers, and the relative lack of concentration on the microsatellites in lower eukaryotes and prokaryotes, we found that simple organisms, defined here as slime molds, fungi, protists, prokaryotes, viruses, organelles and plasmids, contributed 78 of the 375 examined sequences. These 78 simple-organism microsatellites are characterized predominantly by trinucleotide repeats, nearly half of which lie in exons, and in general show a bias towards A+T rich motifs. Simple-organism microsatellites represented more than once in GenBank displayed length polymorphisms when independent clones were compared. These facts collectively raise speculation as to the role of these `junk' sequences in such highly economical genomes, especially when precise changes in long microsatellites are known to regulate critical virulence factors in several prokaryotes. Regardless of their biological significance, simple-organism microsatellites may provide a general source of molecular markers to track disease outbreaks and the evolution of microorganisms in unprecedented detail.

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