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Wittkopp, Patricia (Ed.)Abstract Telomerase RNA (TR) is a noncoding RNA essential for the function of telomerase ribonucleoprotein. TRs from vertebrates, fungi, ciliates, and plants exhibit extreme diversity in size, sequence, secondary structure, and biogenesis pathway. However, the evolutionary pathways leading to such unusual diversity among eukaryotic kingdoms remain elusive. Within the metazoan kingdom, the study of TR has been limited to vertebrates and echinoderms. To understand the origin and evolution of TR across the animal kingdom, we employed a phylogeny-guided, structure-based bioinformatics approach to identify 82 novel TRs from eight previously unexplored metazoan phyla, including the basal-branching sponges. Synthetic TRs from two representative species, a hemichordate and a mollusk, reconstitute active telomerase in vitro with their corresponding telomerase reverse transcriptase components, confirming that they are authentic TRs. Comparative analysis shows that three functional domains, template-pseudoknot (T-PK), CR4/5, and box H/ACA, are conserved between vertebrate and the basal metazoan lineages, indicating a monophyletic origin of the animal TRs with a snoRNA-related biogenesis mechanism. Nonetheless, TRs along separate animal lineages evolved with divergent structural elements in the T-PK and CR4/5 domains. For example, TRs from echinoderms and protostomes lack the canonical CR4/5 and have independently evolved functionally equivalent domains with different secondary structures. Inmore »
The conserved structure of plant telomerase RNA provides the missing link for an evolutionary pathway from ciliates to humansTelomerase is essential for maintaining telomere integrity. Although telomerase function is widely conserved, the integral telomerase RNA (TR) that provides a template for telomeric DNA synthesis has diverged dramatically. Nevertheless, TR molecules retain 2 highly conserved structural domains critical for catalysis: a template-proximal pseudoknot (PK) structure and a downstream stem-loop structure. Here we introduce the authentic TR from the plant Arabidopsis thaliana , called AtTR, identified through next-generation sequencing of RNAs copurifying with Arabidopsis TERT. This RNA is distinct from the RNA previously described as the templating telomerase RNA, AtTER1. AtTR is a 268-nt Pol III transcript necessary for telomere maintenance in vivo and sufficient with TERT to reconstitute telomerase activity in vitro. Bioinformatics analysis identified 85 AtTR orthologs from 3 major clades of plants: angiosperms, gymnosperms, and lycophytes. Through phylogenetic comparisons, a secondary structure model conserved among plant TRs was inferred and verified using in vitro and in vivo chemical probing. The conserved plant TR structure contains a template-PK core domain enclosed by a P1 stem and a 3′ long-stem P4/5/6, both of which resemble a corresponding structural element in ciliate and vertebrate TRs. However, the plant TR contains additional stems and linkers within the template-PK core, allowing formore »