Investigating the role of RNA interference in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces japonicus
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date09/07/2019
RNA interference (RNAi) is a conserved pathway that plays key roles in heterochromatin formation, gene regulation and genome surveillance across a wide range of eukaryotes. One of the most utilised model organisms for studying the RNAi pathway is the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. However, this species is somewhat atypical, in that it has not retained the ancestral role for RNAi in the silencing of mobile genetic elements. In contrast, the related fission yeast S. japonicus has a large and diverse retrotransposon complement that appears to give rise to abundant siRNAs. For this reason, we believe that S. japonicus may be a more suitable model for studying the role of RNAi in silencing mobile genetic elements, a function that is conserved in many higher eukaryotes. Functional analysis of the S. japonicus RNAi pathway proved more challenging than expected, as it was generally not possible to recover strains bearing deletions of core RNAi components (Ago1/Clr4/Rdp1/Arb1/Arb2). This suggests that a functional RNAi pathway may be required for viability in S. japonicus, unlike in S. pombe. However, disruption mutants were isolated for the sole Dicer ribonuclease Dcr1, at very low frequency. Analysis of these mutants revealed that disruption of Dcr1 impaired the generation of retrotransposon derived siRNAs, and caused de-repression of retroelement transcript accumulation and mobilisation in an element dependent manner. Surprisingly however, Dcr1 appeared dispensable for the maintenance of H3K9me2 at transposons, suggesting that, in contrast to S. pombe, silencing may occur principally at the post-transcriptional level. It is also possible that the isolated Dcr1 mutants represent rare survivors that are viable due to the presence of suppressor mutations elsewhere in the genome. I utilised my genome wide RNA sequencing data to help improve the annotation of the S. japonicus genome, with a specific focus on the retrotransposon complement. From this, I identified 12 new families of LTR retrotransposon, which increased the annotated retrotransposon complement by around 40% in S. japonicus. Finally, I characterised the integrative preference of the S. japonicus retrotransposon Tj1, and found that it shares characteristics associated with the S. cerevisiae retrotransposons Ty1 and Ty3, mostly integrating upstream of RNA PolIII transcribed tRNA genes. The findings of this work highlight some potentially key differences in the way the RNAi pathway functions across the fission yeast clade, both in terms of its importance for viability and its mode of action. The work undertaken here also contributes to the establishment of S. japonicus as a model for the study of RNA interference and genome regulation.