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Comparative evolutionary analysis of rDNA ITS regions in Drosophila

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Schlötterer, C., Hauser, M. T., von Haeseler, A., & Tautz, D. (1994). Comparative evolutionary analysis of rDNA ITS regions in Drosophila. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 11(3), 513-522.

The internal transcribed spacer (ITS) of the ribosomal DNA is generally considered to be under low functional constraint, and it is therefore often treated as a typical nonfunctional spacer sequence. We have analyzed the ITS regions of five species from the Drosophila melanogaster subgroup, two Drosophila species from outside this group (D. pseudoobscura and D. virilis), as well as from the more distantly related dipteran ny Musca domestica. The sequence comparisons show a distinctive conservation/divergence pattern, indicating that some regions are more conserved than others. Moreover, secondary-structure calculations indicate several conserved structural elements within the ITS regions. On the other hand, a statistical test that allows us to estimate the fraction of sites that are not under selective constraint suggests that more than half of the spacer is apparently free to diverge and evolves with a rate that is close to the neutral rate of sequence evolution in Drosophila. The ITS sequences can be used to derive a molecular phylogeny for the species under study. We find that the ITS tree is largely in line with the so-far-known phylogeny of this group of species, with one difference. The species most distant within the D. melanogaster subgroup is D. yakuba, rather than D. or-ena, as is normally assumed.