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PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e30630. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030630. Epub 2012 Feb 7.

Transcriptome analysis of the model protozoan, Tetrahymena thermophila, using Deep RNA sequencing.

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Key Laboratory of Aquatic Biodiversity and Conservation, Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, People's Republic of China.



The ciliated protozoan Tetrahymena thermophila is a well-studied single-celled eukaryote model organism for cellular and molecular biology. However, the lack of extensive T. thermophila cDNA libraries or a large expressed sequence tag (EST) database limited the quality of the original genome annotation.


This RNA-seq study describes the first deep sequencing analysis of the T. thermophila transcriptome during the three major stages of the life cycle: growth, starvation and conjugation. Uniquely mapped reads covered more than 96% of the 24,725 predicted gene models in the somatic genome. More than 1,000 new transcribed regions were identified. The great dynamic range of RNA-seq allowed detection of a nearly six order-of-magnitude range of measurable gene expression orchestrated by this cell. RNA-seq also allowed the first prediction of transcript untranslated regions (UTRs) and an updated (larger) size estimate of the T. thermophila transcriptome: 57 Mb, or about 55% of the somatic genome. Our study identified nearly 1,500 alternative splicing (AS) events distributed over 5.2% of T. thermophila genes. This percentage represents a two order-of-magnitude increase over previous EST-based estimates in Tetrahymena. Evidence of stage-specific regulation of alternative splicing was also obtained. Finally, our study allowed us to completely confirm about 26.8% of the genes originally predicted by the gene finder, to correct coding sequence boundaries and intron-exon junctions for about a third, and to reassign microarray probes and correct earlier microarray data.


RNA-seq data significantly improve the genome annotation and provide a fully comprehensive view of the global transcriptome of T. thermophila. To our knowledge, 5.2% of T. thermophila genes with AS is the highest percentage of genes showing AS reported in a unicellular eukaryote. Tetrahymena thus becomes an excellent unicellular model eukaryote in which to investigate mechanisms of alternative splicing.

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