• Plugging Small RNAs into the Network.

      Barquist, Lars; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (ASM, 2020-06-02)
      Small RNAs (sRNAs) have been discovered in every bacterium examined and have been shown to play important roles in the regulation of a diverse range of behaviors, from metabolism to infection. However, despite a wide range of available techniques for discovering and validating sRNA regulatory interactions, only a minority of these molecules have been well characterized. In part, this is due to the nature of posttranscriptional regulation: the activity of an sRNA depends on the state of the transcriptome as a whole, so characterization is best carried out under the conditions in which it is naturally active. In this issue of mSystems, Arrieta-Ortiz and colleagues (M. L. Arrieta-Ortiz, C. Hafemeister, B. Shuster, N. S. Baliga, et al., mSystems 5:e00057-20, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1128/mSystems.00057-20) present a network inference approach based on estimating sRNA activity across transcriptomic compendia. This shows promise not only for identifying new sRNA regulatory interactions but also for pinpointing the conditions in which these interactions occur, providing a new avenue toward functional characterization of sRNAs.
    • Transcriptional noise and exaptation as sources for bacterial sRNAs.

      Jose, Bethany R; Gardner, Paul P; Barquist, Lars; HIRI, Helmholtz-Institut für RNA-basierte Infektionsforschung, Josef-Shneider Strasse 2, 97080 Würzburg, Germany. (Portland Press, 2019-04-30)
      Understanding how new genes originate and integrate into cellular networks is key to understanding evolution. Bacteria present unique opportunities for both the natural history and experimental study of gene origins, due to their large effective population sizes, rapid generation times, and ease of genetic manipulation. Bacterial small non-coding RNAs (sRNAs), in particular, many of which operate through a simple antisense regulatory logic, may serve as tractable models for exploring processes of gene origin and adaptation. Understanding how and on what timescales these regulatory molecules arise has important implications for understanding the evolution of bacterial regulatory networks, in particular, for the design of comparative studies of sRNA function. Here, we introduce relevant concepts from evolutionary biology and review recent work that has begun to shed light on the timescales and processes through which non-functional transcriptional noise is co-opted to provide regulatory functions. We explore possible scenarios for sRNA origin, focusing on the co-option, or exaptation, of existing genomic structures which may provide protected spaces for sRNA evolution.