A Single Mechanism of Biogenesis, Initiated and Directed by PIWI Proteins, Explains piRNA Production in Most Animals
In animals, piRNAs guide PIWI-proteins to silence transposons and regulate gene expression. The mechanisms for making piRNAs have been proposed to differ among cell types, tissues, and animals. Our data instead suggest a single model that explains piRNA production in most animals. piRNAs initiate piRNA production by guiding PIWI proteins to slice precursor transcripts. Next, PIWI proteins direct the stepwise fragmentation of the sliced precursor transcripts, yielding tail-to-head strings of phased pre-piRNAs. Our analyses detect evidence for this piRNA biogenesis strategy across an evolutionarily broad range of animals including humans. Thus, PIWI proteins initiate and sustain piRNA biogenesis by the same mechanism in species whose last common ancestor predates the branching of most animal lineages. The unified model places PIWI-clade Argonautes at the center of piRNA biology and suggests that the ancestral animal--the Urmetazoan--used PIWI proteins both to generate piRNA guides and to execute piRNA function.
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