Exploiting Oxytricha trifallax nanochromosomes to screen for non-coding RNA genes.

Nucleic Acids Res. 2011 Jun 28. [Epub ahead of print]


We took advantage of the unusual genomic organization of the ciliate Oxytricha trifallax to screen for eukaryotic non-coding RNA (ncRNA) genes. Ciliates have two types of nuclei: a germ line micronucleus that is usually transcriptionally inactive, and a somatic macronucleus that contains a reduced, fragmented and rearranged genome that expresses all genes required for growth and asexual reproduction. In some ciliates including Oxytricha, the macronuclear genome is particularly extreme, consisting of thousands of tiny 'nanochromosomes', each of which usually contains only a single gene. Because the organism itself identifies and isolates most of its genes on single-gene nanochromosomes, nanochromosome structure could facilitate the discovery of unusual genes or gene classes, such as ncRNA genes. Using a draft Oxytricha genome assembly and a custom-written protein-coding genefinding program, we identified a subset of nanochromosomes that lack any detectable protein-coding gene, thereby strongly enriching for nanochromosomes that carry ncRNA genes. We found only a small proportion of non-coding nanochromosomes, suggesting that Oxytricha has few independent ncRNA genes besides homologs of already known RNAs. Other than new members of known ncRNA classes including C/D and H/ACA snoRNAs, our screen identified one new family of small RNA genes, named the Arisong RNAs, which share some of the features of small nuclear RNAs.


Jung S, Swart EC, Minx PJ, Magrini V, Mardis ER, Landweber LF, Eddy SR.