The relative importance of gross chromosomal rearrangements to adaptive evolution has not been precisely defined. The Saccharomyces cerevisiae flor yeast strains offer significant advantages for the study of molecular evolution since they have recently evolved to a high degree of specialization in a very restrictive environment. Using DNA microarray technology, we have compared the genomes of two prominent variants of S. cerevisiae flor yeast strains. The strains differ from one another in the DNA copy number of 116 genomic regions that comprise 38% of the genome. In most cases, these regions are amplicons flanked by repeated sequences or other recombination hotspots previously described as regions where double-strand breaks occur. The presence of genes that confer specific characteristics to the flor yeast within the amplicons supports the role of chromosomal rearrangements as a major mechanism of adaptive evolution in S. cerevisiae. We propose that nonallelic interactions are enhanced by ethanol- and acetaldehyde-induced double-strand breaks in the chromosomal DNA, which are repaired by pathways that yield gross chromosomal rearrangements. This mechanism of chromosomal evolution could also account for the sexual isolation shown among the flor yeast.
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