Intragenomic heterogeneity of intergenic ribosomal DNA spacers in Cucurbita moschata is determined by DNA minisatellites with variable potential to form non-canonical DNA conformations.
The intergenic spacer (IGS) of rDNA is frequently built of long blocks of tandem repeats. To estimate the intragenomic variability of such knotty regions, we employed PacBio sequencing of the Cucurbita moschata genome, in which thousands of rDNA copies are distributed across a number of loci. The rRNA coding regions are highly conserved, indicating intensive interlocus homogenization and/or high selection pressure. However, the IGS exhibits high intragenomic structural diversity. Two repeated blocks, R1 (300-1250 bp) and R2 (290-643 bp), account for most of the IGS variation. They exhibit minisatellite-like features built of multiple periodically spaced short GC-rich sequence motifs with the potential to adopt non-canonical DNA conformations, G-quadruplex-folded and left-handed Z-DNA. The mutual arrangement of these motifs can be used to classify IGS variants into five structural families. Subtle polymorphisms exist within each family due to a variable number of repeats, suggesting the coexistence of an enormous number of IGS variants. The substantial length and structural heterogeneity of IGS minisatellites suggests that the tempo of their divergence exceeds the tempo of the homogenization of rDNA arrays. As frequently occurring among plants, we hypothesize that their instability may influence transcription regulation and/or destabilize rDNA units, possibly spreading them across the genome. © The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Kazusa DNA Research Institute.