Open Access Research article

Discovery and validation of novel and distinct RNA regulators for ribosomal protein S15 in diverse bacterial phyla

Betty L Slinger, Kaila Deiorio-Haggar, Jon S Anthony, Molly M Gilligan and Michelle M Meyer*

Author Affiliations

Biology Department, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02135, USA

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:657  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-657

Published: 7 August 2014



Autogenous cis-regulators of ribosomal protein synthesis play a critical role in maintaining the stoichiometry of ribosome components. Structured portions within an mRNA transcript typically interact with specific ribosomal proteins to prevent expression of the entire operon, thus balancing levels of ribosomal proteins across transcriptional units. Three distinct RNA structures from different bacterial phyla have demonstrated interactions with S15 to regulate gene expression; however, these RNAs are distributed across a small fraction of bacterial diversity.


We used comparative genomics in combination with analysis of existing transcriptomic data to identify three novel putative RNA structures associated with the S15 coding region in microbial genomes. These structures are completely distinct from those previously published and encompass potential regulatory regions including ribosome-binding sites. To validate the biological relevance of our findings, we demonstrate that an example of the Alphaproteobacterial RNA from Rhizobium radiobacter specifically interacts with S15 in vitro, and allows in vivo regulation of gene expression in an E. coli reporter system. In addition, structural probing and nuclease protection assays confirm the predicted secondary structure and indicate nucleotides required for protein interaction.


This work illustrates the importance of integrating comparative genomic and transcriptomic approaches during de novo ncRNA identification and reveals a diversity of distinct natural RNA regulators that support analogous biological functions. Furthermore, this work indicates that many additional uncharacterized RNA regulators likely exist within bacterial genomes and that the plasticity of RNA structure allows unique, and likely independently derived, solutions to the same biological problem.