Multispecies comparison of the casein gene loci and evolution of casein gene family.
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Caseins, the major milk proteins, are present in a genomic cluster spanning 250-350 kb. The divergence at the coding level between human, rodent, and cattle sequences is rather extensive for most of the genes in this region. Nevertheless, comparative analysis of genomic sequences harboring the casein gene cluster region of these species (with equal evolutionary distances 79-88 Myr) shows that the organization and orientation of the genes is highly conserved. The conserved gene structure indicates that the molecular diversity of the casein genes is achieved through variable use of exons in different species and high evolutionary divergence. Comparative analysis also revealed the presence within two species of uncharacterized casein family members and ruled out the previously held notion that another gene family, located in this region, is primate-specific. Several other new genes as well as conserved noncoding sequences with potential regulatory functions were identified. All genes identified in this region are, or are predicted to be, secreted proteins involved in mineral homeostasis, nutrition, and/or host defense, and are mostly expressed in the mammary and/or salivary glands. These observations suggest a possible common ancestry for the genes in this region.