Polyubiquitin genes encode the highly conserved 76-amino acid protein ubiquitin that is covalently attached to substrate proteins targeting most for degradation. Polyubiquitin genes are characterized by the presence of tandem repeats of the 228 bp that encode a ubiquitin monomer. Five polyubiquitin genes UBQ3, UBQ4, UBQ10, UBQ11, and UBQ14, previously isolated from Arabidopsis thaliana ecotype Columbia  encode identical mature ubiquitin proteins, but differ in synonymous substitutions, nature of amino acids terminating the open reading frame, and in the number of ubiquitin repeats. The presence of these five genes in nine other Arabidopsis ecotypes was verified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Size differences in UBQ3 and UBQ11 amplified products from several ecotypes were observed, suggesting that alleles differ in ubiquitin repeat number. DNA sequence of UBQ11 alleles from each size class (ecotypes Be-0, Ler, and Rld-0) verified that PCR product size differences resulted from changes in the number of ubiquitin repeats. Nucleotide sequence between two UBQ11 alleles containing the same number of repeats was identical. Transcript size differences for UBQ3 and UBQ11 mRNAs between ecotypes Columbia and Landsberg indicated that repeat number changes did not inactivate these genes. Nucleotide sequence comparisons between UBQ11 repeats from different ecotypes suggest that first repeats are related to each other and last repeats are related to each other. We hypothesize that changes in UBQ11 ubiquitin repeat number occurred via the contraction and/or expansion of specific internal repeats or portions thereof by misalignment of alleles and recombination, most likely via unequal crossing-over events.
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