• Comparative genomics provides structural and functional insights into Bacteroides RNA biology.

      Prezza, Gianluca; Ryan, Daniel; Mädler, Gohar; Reichardt, Sarah; Barquist, Lars; Westermann, Alexander J; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2021-08-28)
      Bacteria employ noncoding RNA molecules for a wide range of biological processes, including scaffolding large molecular complexes, catalyzing chemical reactions, defending against phages, and controlling gene expression. Secondary structures, binding partners, and molecular mechanisms have been determined for numerous small noncoding RNAs (sRNAs) in model aerobic bacteria. However, technical hurdles have largely prevented analogous analyses in the anaerobic gut microbiota. While experimental techniques are being developed to investigate the sRNAs of gut commensals, computational tools and comparative genomics can provide immediate functional insight. Here, using Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron as a representative microbiota member, we illustrate how comparative genomics improves our understanding of RNA biology in an understudied gut bacterium. We investigate putative RNA-binding proteins and predict a Bacteroides cold-shock protein homolog to have an RNA-related function. We apply an in silico protocol incorporating both sequence and structural analysis to determine the consensus structures and conservation of nine Bacteroides noncoding RNA families. Using structure probing, we validate and refine these predictions and deposit them in the Rfam database. Through synteny analyses, we illustrate how genomic coconservation can serve as a predictor of sRNA function. Altogether, this work showcases the power of RNA informatics for investigating the RNA biology of anaerobic microbiota members.
    • Improved bacterial RNA-seq by Cas9-based depletion of ribosomal RNA reads.

      Prezza, Gianluca; Heckel, Tobias; Dietrich, Sascha; Homberger, Christina; Westermann, Alexander J; Vogel, Jörg; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2020-04-28)
      A major challenge for RNA-seq analysis of gene expression is to achieve sufficient coverage of informative nonribosomal transcripts. In eukaryotic samples, this is typically achieved by selective oligo(dT)-priming of messenger RNAs to exclude ribosomal RNA (rRNA) during cDNA synthesis. However, this strategy is not compatible with prokaryotes in which functional transcripts are generally not polyadenylated. To overcome this, we adopted DASH (depletion of abundant sequences by hybridization), initially developed for eukaryotic cells, to improve both the sensitivity and depth of bacterial RNA-seq. DASH uses the Cas9 nuclease to remove unwanted cDNA sequences prior to library amplification. We report the design, evaluation, and optimization of DASH experiments for standard bacterial short-read sequencing approaches, including software for automated guide RNA (gRNA) design for Cas9-mediated cleavage in bacterial rDNA sequences. Using these gRNA pools, we effectively removed rRNA reads (56%-86%) in RNA-seq libraries from two different model bacteria, the Gram-negative pathogen Salmonella enterica and the anaerobic gut commensal Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron DASH works robustly, even with subnanogram amounts of input RNA. Its efficiency, high sensitivity, ease of implementation, and low cost (∼$5 per sample) render DASH an attractive alternative to rRNA removal protocols, in particular for material-constrained studies where conventional ribodepletion techniques fail.
    • An RNA-centric view on gut Bacteroidetes.

      Ryan, Daniel; Prezza, Gianluca; Westermann, Alexander J; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Walter de Gruyter, 2020-09-24)
      Bacteria employ noncoding RNAs to maintain cellular physiology, adapt global gene expression to fluctuating environments, sense nutrients, coordinate their interaction with companion microbes and host cells, and protect themselves against bacteriophages. While bacterial RNA research has made fundamental contributions to biomedicine and biotechnology, the bulk of our knowledge of RNA biology stems from the study of a handful of aerobic model species. In comparison, RNA research is lagging in many medically relevant obligate anaerobic species, in particular the numerous commensal bacteria comprising our gut microbiota. This review presents a guide to RNA-based regulatory mechanisms in the phylum Bacteroidetes, focusing on the most abundant bacterial genus in the human gut, Bacteroides spp. This includes recent case reports on riboswitches, an mRNA leader, cis- and trans-encoded small RNAs (sRNAs) in Bacteroides spp., and a survey of CRISPR-Cas systems across Bacteroidetes. Recent work from our laboratory now suggests the existence of hundreds of noncoding RNA candidates in Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, the emerging model organism for functional microbiota research. Based on these collective observations, we predict mechanistic and functional commonalities and differences between Bacteroides sRNAs and those of other model bacteria, and outline open questions and tools needed to boost Bacteroidetes RNA research.