Swordtail fishes and platies in the genus Xiphophorus (order Cyprinodontiformes, Teleostei) encompass 22 closely related species which are the products of a recent adaptive radiation in the streams of Central America. To investigate the evolution of the major histocompatibility complex (Mhc) genes in the period immediately following speciation, the class I genes from 20 of the 22 species were cloned and characterized by sequencing. The analysis revealed the existence of multiple loci (at least seven in some individuals) whose numbers vary among the different species and probably also among individuals of the same species. The variation does not seem to bear any relationship to the taxonomy of the genus. Genes at the different loci are distinguished by their intron sequences and by the presence of characteristic motifs in exons 2 and 3. The variation in copy number of loci may have been effected in part by unequal crossing over occurring between introns of misaligned closely related genes. The sequences of the genes fall into two groups, A and B, which represent ancient lineages. The groups define two families of loci, which diverged from each other an estimated 85 million years ago, before the separation of the Acanthopterygii from the Paracanthopterygii of the advanced bony fishes. Evolution of the genes within each family can be explained by the birth-and-death process driven by gene duplications and mutational differentiation.
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