In most eukaryotes, the kinetochore protein complex assembles at a single locus termed the centromere to attach chromosomes to spindle microtubules. Holocentric chromosomes have the unusual property of attaching to spindle microtubules along their entire length. Our mechanistic understanding of holocentric chromosome function is derived largely from studies in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, but holocentric chromosomes are found over a broad range of animal and plant species. In this review, we describe how holocentricity may be identified through cytological and molecular methods. By surveying the diversity of organisms with holocentric chromosomes, we estimate that the trait has arisen at least 13 independent times (four times in plants and at least nine times in animals). Holocentric chromosomes have inherent problems in meiosis because bivalents can attach to spindles in a random fashion. Interestingly, there are several solutions that have evolved to allow accuratemeiotic segregation of holocentric chromosomes. Lastly, we describe how extensive genome sequencing and experiments in nonmodel organisms may allow holocentric chromosomes to shed light on general principles of chromosome segregation.
- Tandem repeat
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