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Open Access Research article

A comparative genome-wide study of ncRNAs in trypanosomatids

Tirza Doniger1, Rodolfo Katz12, Chaim Wachtel12, Shulamit Michaeli12 and Ron Unger1*

Author Affiliations

1 The Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan 52900, Israel

2 Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology Institute, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan 52900, Israel

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:615  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-615

Published: 4 November 2010



Recent studies have provided extensive evidence for multitudes of non-coding RNA (ncRNA) transcripts in a wide range of eukaryotic genomes. ncRNAs are emerging as key players in multiple layers of cellular regulation. With the availability of many whole genome sequences, comparative analysis has become a powerful tool to identify ncRNA molecules. In this study, we performed a systematic genome-wide in silico screen to search for novel small ncRNAs in the genome of Trypanosoma brucei using techniques of comparative genomics.


In this study, we identified by comparative genomics, and validated by experimental analysis several novel ncRNAs that are conserved across multiple trypanosomatid genomes. When tested on known ncRNAs, our procedure was capable of finding almost half of the known repertoire through homology over six genomes, and about two-thirds of the known sequences were found in at least four genomes. After filtering, 72 conserved unannotated sequences in at least four genomes were found, 29 of which, ranging in size from 30 to 392 nts, were conserved in all six genomes. Fifty of the 72 candidates in the final set were chosen for experimental validation. Eighteen of the 50 (36%) were shown to be expressed, and for 11 of them a distinct expression product was detected, suggesting that they are short ncRNAs. Using functional experimental assays, five of the candidates were shown to be novel H/ACA and C/D snoRNAs; these included three sequences that appear as singletons in the genome, unlike previously identified snoRNA molecules that are found in clusters. The other candidates appear to be novel ncRNA molecules, and their function is, as yet, unknown.


Using comparative genomic techniques, we predicted 72 sequences as ncRNA candidates in T. brucei. The expression of 50 candidates was tested in laboratory experiments. This resulted in the discovery of 11 novel short ncRNAs in procyclic stage T. brucei, which have homologues in the other trypansomatids. A few of these molecules are snoRNAs, but most of them are novel ncRNA molecules. Based on this study, our analysis suggests that the total number of ncRNAs in trypanosomatids is in the range of several hundred.