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From mild-mannered to killer plague
Date:8/29/2011

ered the differences in disease severity between these two subspecies may have arisen from changes in small, non-coding RNAs (sRNAs), complex molecules involved in controlling many cellular processes.

The Northwestern team is the first to show that sRNAs in Yersinia affect virulence, a finding that suggests the evolution of pathogens may also occur at the level of changes in RNA and in the way protein-coding genes are regulated.

Lathem used advanced DNA sequencing technology called high-throughput sequencing to identify the complete set of sRNAs produced by Y. pseudotuberculosis. The technology enabled his team to study the diseases for the first time at a deeper genetic level.

"This technique enables us to really pick apart how pathogens evolve and how different species of bacteria are able to cause different types of disease," Lathem said. "It goes beyond looking at what proteins are produced by the bacteria. It's an additional layer of evolutionary analysis."

This detective work is important because if researchers can identify unique characteristics among deadly species such as Y. pestis, they may be able to generate new therapeutics or adapt current ones.

Unlike traditional "messenger" RNA, which is copied from DNA to create proteins and is well understood by scientists, these non-coding sRNA molecules are never translated into proteins. Hundreds of noncoding RNA molecules exist inside bacterial cells, but, until recently, scientists had not determined the function of many.

"Once we identified the complete set of sRNAs for Y. pseudotuberculosis, further analysis unlocked a number of surprising discoveries about their function," Lathem said.

Among these surprising discoveries, Lathem's team identified 150 sRNAs, a majority of which are specific to the Yersinia species, and six sRNAs unique to Y. pseudotuberculosis. Those six sRNAs are missing in Y. pestis, likely
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Contact: Marla Paul
Marla-Paul@northwestern.edu
312-503-8928
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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