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Open Access Research article

Genome-wide identification of Hfq-regulated small RNAs in the fire blight pathogen Erwinia amylovora discovered small RNAs with virulence regulatory function

Quan Zeng and George W Sundin*

Author Affiliations

Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:414  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-414

Published: 31 May 2014



Erwinia amylovora is a phytopathogenic bacterium and causal agent of fire blight disease in apples and pears. Although many virulence factors have been characterized, the coordination of expression of these virulence factors in E. amylovora is still not clear. Regulatory small RNAs (sRNAs) are important post-transcriptional regulatory components in bacteria. A large number of sRNAs require the RNA chaperone Hfq for both stability and functional activation. In E. amylovora, Hfq was identified as a major regulator of virulence and various virulence traits. However, information is still lacking about Hfq-dependent sRNAs on a genome scale, including the virulence regulatory functions of these sRNAs in E. amylovora.


Using both an RNA-seq analysis and a Rho-independent terminator search, 40 candidate Hfq-dependent sRNAs were identified in E. amylovora. The expression and sizes of 12 sRNAs and the sequence boundaries of seven sRNAs were confirmed by Northern blot and 5’ RACE assay respectively. Sequence conservation analysis identified sRNAs conserved only in the Erwinia genus as well as E. amylovora species-specific sRNAs. In addition, a dynamic re-patterning of expression of Hfq-dependent sRNAs was observed at 6 and 12 hours after induction in Hrp-inducing minimal medium. Furthermore, sRNAs that control virulence traits were characterized, among which ArcZ positively controls the type III secretion system (T3SS), amylovoran exopolysaccahride production, biofilm formation, and motility, and negatively modulates attachment while RmaA (Hrs6) and OmrAB both negatively regulate amylovoran production and positively regulate motility.


This study has significantly enhanced our understanding of the Hfq-dependent sRNAs in E. amylovora at the genome level. The identification of multiple virulence-regulating sRNAs also suggests that post-transcriptional regulation by sRNAs may play a role in the deployment of virulence factors needed during varying stages of pathogenesis during host invasion by E. amylovora.

RNA-seq; sRNA; Type III secretion system; Biofilm; Amylovoran; Motility; ArcZ