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Discovery of a minimal form of RNase P in Pyrobaculum

Lai, Lien B., Chan, Patricia P., Cozen, Aaron E., Bernick, David L., Brown, James W., Gopalan, Venkat, Lowe, Todd M.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2010 v.107 no.52 pp. 22493-22498
Aquifex, active sites, genes, genomics, high-throughput nucleotide sequencing, microorganisms, models, non-coding RNA, prediction, ribonucleases, ribonucleoproteins, substrate specificity, transfer RNA
RNase P RNA is an ancient, nearly universal feature of life. As part of the ribonucleoprotein RNase P complex, the RNA component catalyzes essential removal of 5' leaders in pre-tRNAs. In 2004, Li and Altman computationally identified the RNase P RNA gene in all but three sequenced microbes: Nanoarchaeum equitans, Pyrobaculum aerophilum, and Aquifex aeolicus (all hyperthermophiles) [Li Y, Altman S (2004) RNA 10:1533-1540]. A recent study concluded that N. equitans does not have or require RNase P activity because it lacks 5' tRNA leaders. The "missing" RNase P RNAs in the other two species is perplexing given evidence or predictions that tRNAs are trimmed in both, prompting speculation that they may have developed novel alternatives to 5' pre-tRNA processing. Using comparative genomics and improved computational methods, we have now identified a radically minimized form of the RNase P RNA in five Pyrobaculum species and the related crenarchaea Caldivirga maquilingensis and Vulcanisaeta distributa, all retaining a conventional catalytic domain, but lacking a recognizable specificity domain. We confirmed 5' tRNA processing activity by high-throughput RNA sequencing and in vitro biochemical assays. The Pyrobaculum and Caldivirga RNase P RNAs are the smallest naturally occurring form yet discovered to function as trans-acting precursor tRNA-processing ribozymes. Loss of the specificity domain in these RNAs suggests altered substrate specificity and could be a useful model for finding other potential roles of RNase P. This study illustrates an effective combination of next-generation RNA sequencing, computational genomics, and biochemistry to identify a divergent, formerly undetectable variant of an essential noncoding RNA gene.