Rhizobial tRNA-derived small RNAs are signal molecules regulating plant nodulation

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Science  30 Aug 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6456, pp. 919-922
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav8907

Microbial tRNA pieces regulate nodulation

To fix nitrogen, leguminous plants enter into a symbiotic relationship with nodulating bacteria. Ren et al. now reveal the bacteria as active regulators in this process (see the Perspective by Baldrich and Meyers). Small fragments cleaved from rhizobial tRNA molecules tap into the hosts' RNA interference machinery to silence key host genes. Thus, both host and microbe shape the symbiotic environment.

Science, this issue p. 919; see also p. 868


Rhizobial infection and root nodule formation in legumes require recognition of signal molecules produced by the bacteria and their hosts. Here, we show that rhizobial transfer RNA (tRNA)-derived small RNA fragments (tRFs) are signal molecules that modulate host nodulation. Three families of rhizobial tRFs were confirmed to regulate host genes associated with nodule initiation and development through hijacking the host RNA-interference machinery that involves ARGONAUTE 1. Silencing individual tRFs with the use of short tandem target mimics or by overexpressing their targets represses root hair curling and nodule formation, whereas repressing these targets with artificial microRNAs identical to the respective tRFs or mutating these targets with CRISPR-Cas9 promotes nodulation. Our findings thus uncover a bacterial small RNA–mediated mechanism for prokaryote-eukaryote interaction and may pave the way for enhancing nodulation efficiency in legumes.

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