Fan C, Walling JG, Zhang J, Hirsch CD, Jiang J, Wing RA.
Plant Cell. 2011 Aug;23(8):2821-30. Epub 2011 Aug 19.
Recombination is strongly suppressed in centromeric regions. In chromosomal regions with suppressed recombination, deleterious mutations can easily accumulate and cause degeneration of genes and genomes. Surprisingly, the centromere of chromosome8 (Cen8) of rice (Oryza sativa) contains several transcribed genes. However, it remains unclear as to what selective forces drive the evolution and existence of transcribed genes in Cen8. Sequencing of orthologous Cen8 regions from two additional Oryza species, Oryza glaberrima and Oryza brachyantha, which diverged from O. sativa 1 and 10 million years ago, respectively, revealed a set of seven transcribed Cen8 genes conserved across all three species. Chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis with the centromere-specific histone CENH3 confirmed that the sequenced orthologous regions are part of the functional centromere. All seven Cen8 genes have undergone purifying selection, representing a striking phenomenon of active gene survival within a recombination-free zone over a long evolutionary time. The coding sequences of the Cen8 genes showed sequence divergence and mutation rates that were significantly reduced from those of genes located on the chromosome arms. This suggests that Oryza has a mechanism to maintain the fidelity and functionality of Cen8 genes, even when embedded in a sea of repetitive sequences and transposable elements.