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BMC Evol Biol. 2017 Aug 22;17(1):199. doi: 10.1186/s12862-017-1037-5.

Divergence of functional effects among bacterial sRNA paralogs.

Chen IK1,2,3, Velicer GJ4,5, Yu YN4,5.

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Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN47405, USA.
Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zurich, CH-8092, Zurich, Switzerland.
Present address: School of Biological Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA30332, USA.
Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN47405, USA.
Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zurich, CH-8092, Zurich, Switzerland.



Non-coding small RNAs (sRNAs) regulate a variety of important biological processes across all life domains, including bacteria. However, little is known about the functional evolution of sRNAs in bacteria, which might occur via changes in sRNA structure and/or stability or changes in interactions between sRNAs and their associated regulatory networks, including target mRNAs. The sRNA Pxr functions as a developmental gatekeeper in the model cooperative bacterium Myxococcus xanthus. Specifically, Pxr prevents the initiation of fruiting body development when nutrients are abundant. Previous work has shown that Pxr appears to have a recent origin within a sub-clade of the myxobacteria, which allowed us to infer the most recent common ancestor of pxr and examine the divergence of Pxr since its origin.


To test for inter-specific divergence in functional effects, extant pxr homologs from several species and their inferred ancestor were introduced into an M. xanthus deletion mutant lacking pxr. Both the inferred ancestral pxr and all extant alleles from species containing only one copy of pxr were found to control development in M. xanthus in a qualitatively similar manner to the native M. xanthus allele. However, multiple paralogs present in Cystobacter species exhibited divergent effects, with two paralogs controlling M. xanthus development but two others failing to do so. These differences may have occurred through changes in gene expression caused by apparent structural differences in the sRNA variants encoded by these paralogs.


Taken together, our results suggest that Pxr plays a common fundamental role in developmental gene regulation across diverse species of myxobacteria but also that the functional effects of some Pxr variants may be evolving in some lineages.


Bacterial development; Gene duplication; Multicellularity; Myxobacteria; Regulation of gene expression; Small non-coding RNAs

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