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PLoS Genet. 2019 Feb 19;15(2):e1007915. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007915. eCollection 2019 Feb.

Functional lability of RNA-dependent RNA polymerases in animals.

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Institut de Génétique Humaine, UMR 9002 CNRS and université de Montpellier, 141, rue de la Cardonille, 34396 Montpellier CEDEX 5, France.
Sorbonne Université, CNRS, Biologie Intégrative des Organismes Marins, BIOM, F-66650 Banyuls-sur-Mer, France.


RNA interference (RNAi) requires RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RdRPs) in many eukaryotes, and RNAi amplification constitutes the only known function for eukaryotic RdRPs. Yet in animals, classical model organisms can elicit RNAi without possessing RdRPs, and only nematode RNAi was shown to require RdRPs. Here we show that RdRP genes are much more common in animals than previously thought, even in insects, where they had been assumed not to exist. RdRP genes were present in the ancestors of numerous clades, and they were subsequently lost at a high frequency. In order to probe the function of RdRPs in a deuterostome (the cephalochordate Branchiostoma lanceolatum), we performed high-throughput analyses of small RNAs from various Branchiostoma developmental stages. Our results show that Branchiostoma RdRPs do not appear to participate in RNAi: we did not detect any candidate small RNA population exhibiting classical siRNA length or sequence features. Our results show that RdRPs have been independently lost in dozens of animal clades, and even in a clade where they have been conserved (cephalochordates) their function in RNAi amplification is not preserved. Such a dramatic functional variability reveals an unexpected plasticity in RNA silencing pathways.

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