The haploid genomes of all known primates have two or more adult α-globin genes contained within tandemly arranged duplication units. Although the tandem duplication event generating these α-globin loci is believed to occur prior to the divergence of primates, a number of length polymorphisms exist within the loci among different primate species. In order to understand the molecular basis of these length polymorphisms, we have cloned and determined the nucleotide sequence of a major portion of the rhesus monkey adult α-globin locus. Sequence comparison to human suggests that the length difference between the adult α-globin loci of human and Old World monkey is the result of one or more DNA recombination processes, all of which appeared to be related to the transposition of Alu family repeats. First, the finding of a monomeric Alu family repeat at the junction between nonhomology block I and homology block Y of the α2 genecontaining unit in rhesus macaque suggests that the dimeric Alu family repeat, Alu 3, at the orthologous position in human was generated by insertion of a monomeric Alu family repeat into the 3′ end of another preexisting Alu family repeat. Second, two Alu family repeats, Alu 1 and Alu 2, exist in human at the 3′ end of each of the two X homology blocks, respectively. However, this pair of paralogous Alu family repeats is absent at the corresponding positions in rhesus macaques. This raises interesting questions regarding the evolutionary origin of Alu 1 and Alu 2. Finally, DNA sequences immediately downstream from the insertion site of Alu 2 are completely different between human and rhesus macaque. This last event is similar to DNA rearrangements occurring nearby transposable element(s) in the chromosomes of bacteria, yeast, and plant cells. Its possible role in accelerating the genomic evolution of noncoding or spacer DNA is discussed.
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