Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Genomics and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Detection of RNA structures in porcine EST data and related mammals

Stefan E Seemann12, Michael J Gilchrist3, Ivo L Hofacker4, Peter F Stadler24 and Jan Gorodkin1*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Genetics and Bioinformatics, IBHV, University of Copenhagen, Grønnegårdsvej 3, DK-1870 Frederiksberg, Denmark

2 Bioinformatics Group, Department of Computer Science, University of Leipzig, Germany

3 The Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, Cambridge, CB2 1QN, UK

4 Institute for Theoretical Chemistry and Structural Biology, University of Vienna, Austria

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Genomics 2007, 8:316  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-316

Published: 10 September 2007



Non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) are involved in a wide spectrum of regulatory functions. Within recent years, there have been increasing reports of observed polyadenylated ncRNAs and mRNA like ncRNAs in eukaryotes. To investigate this further, we examined the large data set in the Sino-Danish PigEST resource webcite which also contains expression information distributed on 97 non-normalized cDNA libraries.


We constructed a pipeline, EST2ncRNA, to search for known and novel ncRNAs. The pipeline utilises sequence similarity to ncRNA databases (blast), structure similarity to Rfam (RaveNnA) as well as multiple alignments to predict conserved novel putative RNA structures (RNAz). EST2ncRNA was fed with 48,000 contigs and 73,000 singletons available from the PigEST resource. Using the pipeline we identified known RNA structures in 137 contigs and single reads (conreads), and predicted high confidence RNA structures in non-protein coding regions of additional 1,262 conreads. Of these, structures in 270 conreads overlap with existing predictions in human. To sum up, the PigEST resource comprises trans-acting elements (ncRNAs) in 715 contigs and 340 singletons as well as cis-acting elements (inside UTRs) in 311 contigs and 51 singletons, of which 18 conreads contain both predictions of trans- and cis-acting elements. The predicted RNAz candidates were compared with the PigEST expression information and we identify 114 contigs with an RNAz prediction and expression in at least ten of the non-normalised cDNA libraries. We conclude that the contigs with RNAz and known predictions are in general expressed at a much lower level than protein coding transcripts. In addition, we also observe that our ncRNA candidates constitute about one to two percent of the genes expressed in the cDNA libraries. Intriguingly, the cDNA libraries from developmental (brain) tissues contain the highest amount of ncRNA candidates, about two percent. These observations are related to existing knowledge and hypotheses about the role of ncRNAs in higher organisms. Furthermore, about 80% porcine coding transcripts (of 18,600 identified) as well as less than one-third ORF-free transcripts are conserved at least in the closely related bovine genome. Approximately one percent of the coding and 10% of the remaining matches are unique between the PigEST data and cow genome. Based on the pig-cow alignments, we searched for similarities to 16 other organisms by UCSC available alignments, which resulted in a 87% coverage by the human genome for instance.


Besides recovering several of the already annotated functional RNA structures, we predicted a large number of high confidence conserved secondary structures in polyadenylated porcine transcripts. Our observations of relatively low expression levels of predicted ncRNA candidates together with the observations of higher relative amount in cDNA libraries from developmental stages are in agreement with the current paradigm of ncRNA roles in higher organisms and supports the idea of polyadenylated ncRNAs.