Ribonuclease E (RNase E) represents a key enzyme in bacterial RNA metabolism. It plays multifarious roles in RNA processing and also initiates degradation of mRNA by endonucleolytic cleavage. Plastids (chloroplasts) are derived from formerly free-living bacteria and have largely retained eubacterial gene expression mechanisms. Here we report the functional characterization of a chloroplast RNase E that is encoded by a single-copy nuclear gene in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Analysis of knockout plants revealed that, unlike in bacteria, RNase E is not essential for survival. Absence of RNase E results in multiple defects in chloroplast RNA metabolism. Most importantly, polycistronic precursor transcripts overaccumulate in the knockout plants, while several mature monocistronic mRNAs are strongly reduced, suggesting an important function of RNase E in intercistronic processing of primary transcripts from chloroplast operons. We further show that disturbed maturation of a transcript encoding essential ribosomal proteins results in plastid ribosome deficiency and, therefore, provides a molecular explanation for the observed mutant phenotype.
© 2010 The Authors. The Plant Journal © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.