Widespread expression of conserved small RNAs in small symbiont genomes

Allison K. Hansen, Patrick H. Degnan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Genome architecture of a microbe markedly changes when it transitions from a free-living lifestyle to an obligate symbiotic association within eukaryotic cells. These symbiont genomes experience numerous rearrangements and massive gene loss, which is expected to radically alter gene regulatory networks compared with those of free-living relatives. As such, it remains unclear whether and how these small symbiont genomes regulate gene expression. Here, using a label-free mass-spec quantification approach we found that differential protein regulation occurs in Buchnera, a model symbiont with a reduced genome, when it transitions between two distinct life stages. However, differential mRNA expression could not be detected between Buchnera life stages, despite the presence of a small number of putative transcriptional regulators. Instead a comparative analysis of small RNA expression profiles among five divergent Buchnera lineages, spanning a variety of Buchnera life stages, reveals 140 novel intergenic and antisense small RNAs and 517 untranslated regions that were significantly expressed, some of which have been conserved for ∼65 million years. In addition, the majority of these small RNAs exhibit both sequence covariation and thermodynamic stability, indicators of a potential structural RNA role. Together, these data suggest that gene regulation at the post-transcriptional level may be important in Buchnera. This is the first study to empirically identify Buchnera small RNAs, and we propose that these novel small RNAs may facilitate post-transcriptional regulation through translational inhibition/activation, and/or transcript stability. Ultimately, post-transcriptional regulation may shape metabolic complementation between Buchnera and its aphid host, thus impacting the animal's ecology and evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2490-2502
Number of pages13
JournalISME Journal
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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