In Escherichia coli, approximately 100 regulatory small RNAs (sRNAs) have been identified experimentally and many more have been predicted by various methods. To provide a comprehensive overview of sRNAs, we analysed the low-molecular-weight RNAs (< 200 nt) of E. coli with deep sequencing, because the regulatory RNAs in bacteria are usually 50-200 nt in length.
Transfer RNA (tRNA) is essential for decoding the genome sequence into proteins. In Archaea, previous studies have revealed unique multiple intron-containing tRNAs and tRNAs that are encoded on 2 separate genes, so-called split tRNAs. Here, we discovered 10 fragmented tRNA genes in the complete genome of the hyperthermoacidophilic Archaeon Caldivirga maquilingensis that are individually transcribed and further trans-spliced to generate all of the missing tRNAs encoding glycine, alanine, and glutamate. Notably, the 3 mature tRNA(Gly)s with synonymous codons are created from 1 constitutive 3 half transcript and 4 alternatively switching transcripts, representing tRNA made from a total of 3 transcripts named a "tri-split tRNA." Expression and nucleotide sequences of 10 split tRNA genes and their joined tRNA products were experimentally verified. The intervening sequences of split tRNA have high identity to tRNA intron sequences located at the same positions in intron-containing tRNAs in related Thermoproteales species. This suggests that an evolutionary relationship between intron-containing and split tRNAs exists. Our findings demonstrate the first example of split tRNA genes in a free-living organism and a unique tri-split tRNA gene that provides further insight into the evolution of fragmented tRNAs.
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