In various organisms, an efficient RNAi response can be triggered by feeding cells with bacteria producing double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) against an endogenous gene. However, the detailed mechanisms and natural functions of this pathway are not well understood in most cases. Here, we studied siRNA biogenesis from exogenous RNA and its genetic overlap with endogenous RNAi in the ciliate Paramecium tetraurelia by high-throughput sequencing. Using wild-type and mutant strains deficient for dsRNA feeding we found that high levels of primary siRNAs of both strands are processed from the ingested dsRNA trigger by the Dicer Dcr1, the RNA-dependent RNA polymerases Rdr1 and Rdr2 and other factors. We further show that this induces the synthesis of secondary siRNAs spreading along the entire endogenous mRNA, demonstrating the occurrence of both 3'-to-5' and 5'-to-3' transitivity for the first time in the SAR clade of eukaryotes (Stramenopiles, Alveolates, Rhizaria). Secondary siRNAs depend on Rdr2 and show a strong antisense bias; they are produced at much lower levels than primary siRNAs and hardly contribute to RNAi efficiency. We further provide evidence that the Paramecium RNAi machinery also processes single-stranded RNAs from its bacterial food, broadening the possible natural functions of exogenously induced RNAi in this organism.
© The Author(s) 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.