A conspicuous cell-shape phenotype known as “screwy” was reported to result from mutations at two or three uncharacterized loci in the ciliate Paramecium tetraurelia
. Here, we describe a new screwy mutation, Spinning Top, which appeared spontaneously in the cross of an unrelated mutant with reference strain 51. The macronuclear (MAC) genome of the Spinning Top mutant is shown to lack a ~28.5-kb segment containing 18 genes at the end of one chromosome, which appears to result from a collinear deletion in the micronuclear (MIC) genome. We tested several candidate genes from the deleted locus by dsRNA-induced silencing in wild-type cells, and identified a single gene responsible for the phenotype. This gene, named Spade, encodes a 566-aa glutamine-rich protein with a C2
HC zinc finger. Its silencing leads to a fast phenotype switch during vegetative growth, but cells recover a wild-type phenotype only 5–6 divisions after silencing is stopped. We analyzed 5 independently-obtained mutant alleles of the Sc1
locus, and concluded that all of them also lack the Spade gene and a number of neighboring genes in the MAC and MIC genomes. Mapping of the MAC deletion breakpoints revealed two different positions among the 5 alleles, both of which differ from the Spinning Top breakpoint. These results suggest that this MIC chromosome region is intrinsically unstable in strain 51.
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