Telomerase is a specialized enzyme that adds telomeric DNA repeats to the chromosome ends to counterbalance the progressive telomere shortening over cell divisions. It has two essential core components, a catalytic telomerase reverse transcriptase protein (TERT), and a telomerase RNA (TR). TERT synthesizes telomeric DNA by reverse transcribing a short template sequence in TR. Unlike TERT, TR is extremely divergent in size, sequence and structure and has only been identified in three evolutionarily distant groups. The lack of knowledge on TR from important model organisms has been a roadblock for vigorous studies on telomerase regulation. To address this issue, a novel in vitro system combining deep-sequencing and bioinformatics search was developed to discover TR from new phylogenetic groups. The system has been validated by the successful identification of TR from echinoderm purple sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. The sea urchin TR (spTR) is the first invertebrate TR that has been identified and can serve as a model for understanding how the vertebrate TR evolved with vertebrate-specific traits. By using phylogenetic comparative analysis, the secondary structure of spTR was determined. The spTR secondary structure reveals unique sea urchin specific structure elements as well as homologous structural features shared by TR from other organisms. This study enhanced the understanding of telomerase mechanism and the evolution of telomerase RNP. The system that was used to identity telomerase RNA can be employed for the discovery of other TR as well as the discovery of novel RNA from other RNP complex.
- Identification, characterization and evolution of invertebrate telomerase RNA