As sequencing costs are being lowered continuously, RNA-seq has gradually been adopted as the first choice for comparative transcriptome studies with bacteria. Unlike microarrays, RNA-seq can directly detect cDNA derived from mRNA transcripts at a single nucleotide resolution. Not only does this allow researchers to determine the absolute expression level of genes, but it also conveys information about transcript structure. Few automatic software tools have yet been established to investigate large-scale RNA-seq data for bacterial transcript structure analysis.
In this study, 54 directional RNA-seq libraries from Salmonella serovar Typhimurium (S. Typhimurium) 14028s were examined for potential relationships between read mapping patterns and transcript structure. Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan developed an empirical method, combined with statistical tests, to automatically detect key transcript features, including transcriptional start sites (TSSs), transcriptional termination sites (TTSs) and operon organization. Using this method, they obtained 2,764 TSSs and 1,467 TTSs for 1331 and 844 different genes, respectively. Identification of TSSs facilitated further discrimination of 215 putative sigma 38 regulons and 863 potential sigma 70 regulons. Combining the TSSs and TTSs with intergenic distance and co-expression information, they comprehensively annotated the operon organization in S. Typhimurium 14028s.
These results show that directional RNA-seq can be used to detect transcriptional borders at an acceptable resolution of ±10-20 nucleotides. Technical limitations of the RNA-seq procedure may prevent single nucleotide resolution. The automatic transcript border detection methods, statistical models and operon organization pipeline that they have described could be widely applied to RNA-seq studies in other bacteria. Furthermore, the TSSs, TTSs, operons, promoters and unstranslated regions that we have defined for S. Typhimurium 14028s may constitute valuable resources that can be used for comparative analyses with other Salmonella serotypes.