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Microbiology. 2013 Jul;159(Pt 7):1423-36. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.067462-0. Epub 2013 May 23.

Phyletic distribution and conservation of the bacterial transcription termination factor Rho.

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Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire, CNRS UPR4301, rue Charles Sadron, 45071 Orléans cedex 2, France.


Transcription termination factor Rho is a ring-shaped, ATP-dependent molecular motor that targets hundreds of transcription units in Escherichia coli. Interest in Rho was renewed recently on the realization that this essential factor is involved in multiple interactions and cellular processes that protect the E. coli genome and regulate its expression on a global scale. Yet it is currently unknown if (and how) Rho-dependent mechanisms are conserved throughout the bacterial kingdom. Here, we mined public databases to assess the distribution, expression and structural conservation of Rho across bacterial phyla. We found that rho is present in more than 90 % of sequenced bacterial genomes, although Cyanobacteria, Mollicutes and a fraction of Firmicutes are totally devoid of rho. Genomes lacking rho tend to be small and AT-rich and often belong to species with parasitic/symbiotic lifestyles (such as Mollicutes). By contrast, large GC-rich genomes, such as those of Actinobacteria, often contain rho duplicates and/or encode Rho proteins that bear insertion domains of unknown function(s). Notwithstanding, most Rho sequences across taxa contain canonical RNA-binding and ATP hydrolysis signature motifs, a feature suggestive of largely conserved mechanism(s) of action. Mutations that impair binding of bicyclomycin are present in ~5 % of rho sequences, implying that species from diverse ecosystems have developed resistance against this natural antibiotic. Altogether, these findings assert that Rho function is widespread among bacteria and suggest that it plays a particularly relevant role in the expression of complex genomes and/or bacterial adaptation to changing environments.

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