Telomeres are essential structures that stabilize the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes and allow complete replication of linear DNA molecules. We examined the structure and replication of telomeres by observing the fate of the linear extrachromosomal rDNA of Tetrahymena after injection into unfertilized Xenopus eggs. The rDNA replicated efficiently as a linear extrachromosomal molecule, increasing in mass 30-50-fold by 15-20 h after injection. In addition, the molecules increased in length by addition of up to several kilobases of DNA to their termini. Sequence analysis demonstrated that the added DNA bore no resemblance to known telomeres. The junction between the rDNA and added DNA was apparently random, indicating that the addition reaction did not involve a site-specific recombination or integration event. Surprisingly, Southern blot analysis showed that the added DNA did not derive from Xenopus DNA, but rather from co-purifying and therefore co-injected Tetrahymena DNA. The nonspecific ligation of random DNA fragments to the rDNA termini suggests that microinjected Tetrahymena rDNA ends are not recognized as telomeres in Xenopus eggs.

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