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16S ribosomal RNA

16s ribosomal rna, 16s ribosomal rna sequencing
16S ribosomal RNA or 16S rRNA is the component of the 30S small subunit of a prokaryotic ribosome that binds to the Shine-Dalgarno sequence The genes coding for it are referred to as 16S rRNA gene and are used in reconstructing phylogenies, due to the slow rates of evolution of this region of the gene Carl Woese and George E Fox were two of the people who pioneered the use of 16S rRNA in phylogenetics

Multiple sequences of the 16S rRNA gene can exist within a single bacterium


  • 1 Functions
  • 2 Structure
  • 3 Universal primers
    • 31 PCR and NGS applications
    • 32 Hypervariable Regions
  • 4 16S ribosomal databases
    • 41 EzTaxon-e
    • 42 Ribosomal Database Project
    • 43 SILVA
    • 44 GreenGenes
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links


It has several functions:

  • Like the large 23S ribosomal RNA, it has a structural role, acting as a scaffold defining the positions of the ribosomal proteins
  • The 3' end contains the anti-Shine-Dalgarno sequence, which binds upstream to the AUG start codon on the mRNA The 3'-end of 16S RNA binds to the proteins S1 and S21 known to be involved in initiation of protein synthesis; RNA-protein cross-linking by AP Czernilofsky et al FEBS Lett Vol 58, pp 281–284, 1975
  • Interacts with 23S, aiding in the binding of the two ribosomal subunits 50S+30S
  • Stabilizes correct codon-anticodon pairing in the A site, via a hydrogen bond formation between the N1 atom of Adenine see image of Purine chemical structure residues 1492 and 1493 and the 2'OH group of the mRNA backbone


Universal primers

The 16S rRNA gene is used for phylogenetic studies as it is highly conserved between different species of bacteria and archaea Carl Woese pioneered this use of 16S rRNA It is suggested that 16S rRNA gene can be used as a reliable molecular clock because 16S rRNA sequences from distantly related bacterial lineages are shown to have similar functionalities Some hyperthermophilic archaea ie order Thermoproteales contain 16S rRNA gene introns that are located in highly conserved regions and can impact the annealing of "universal" primers Mitochondrial and chloroplastic rRNA are also amplified

The most common primer pair was devised by Weisburg et al and is currently referred to as 27F and 1492R; however, for some applications shorter amplicons may be necessary for example for 454 sequencing with Titanium chemistry 500-ish reads are ideal the primer pair 27F-534R covering V1 to V3 Often 8F is used rather than 27F The two primers are almost identical, but 27F has an M instead of a C AGAGTTTGATCMTGGCTCAG compared with 8F

Primer name Sequence 5'-3' Reference
U1492R GGT TAC CTT GTT ACG ACT T same as above

PCR and NGS applications

In addition to highly conserved primer binding sites, 16S rRNA gene sequences contain hypervariable regions that can provide species-specific signature sequences useful for identification of bacteria As a result, 16S rRNA gene sequencing has become prevalent in medical microbiology as a rapid and cheap alternative to phenotypic methods of bacterial identification Although it was originally used to identify bacteria, 16S sequencing was subsequently found to be capable of reclassifying bacteria into completely new species, or even genera It has also been used to describe new species that have never been successfully cultured With Third-generation sequencing coming to many labs, simultaneous identification of thousands of 16S rRNA sequences is possible within hours, allowing metagenomic studies, for example of the gut flora

Hypervariable Regions

The bacterial 16S gene contains nine hypervariable regions V1-V9 ranging from about 30-100 base pairs long that are involved in the secondary structure of the small ribosomal subunit The degree of conservation varies widely between hypervariable regions, with more conserved regions correlating to higher-level taxonomy and less conserved regions to lower levels, such as genus and species While the entire 16S sequence allows for comparison of all hypervariable regions, at approximately 1500 base pairs long it can be prohibitively expensive for studies seeking to identify or characterize diverse bacterial communities These studies commonly utilize the Illumina platform, which produces reads at rates 50-fold and 12,000-fold less expensive than 454 pyrosequencing and Sanger sequencing, respectively While cheaper and allowing for deeper community coverage, Illumina sequencing only produces reads 75-150 base pairs long, and has no established protocol for reliably assembling the full gene in community samples Full hypervariable regions can be assembled from a single Illumina run, however, making them ideal targets for the platform

While 16S hypervariable regions can vary dramatically between bacteria, the 16S gene as a whole maintains greater length homogeneity than its Eukaryotic counterpart, which can make alignments easier Additionally, the 16S gene contains highly conserved sequences between hypervariable regions, enabling the design of universal primers that can reliably produce the same sections of the 16S sequence across different taxa Although no hypervariable region can accurately classify all bacteria from Domain to Species, some can reliably predict specific taxonomic levels Many community studies select semi-conserved hypervariable regions like the V4 for this reason, as it can provide resolution at the phylum level as accurately as the full 16S gene While lesser-conserved regions struggle to classify new species when higher order taxonomy is unknown, they are often used to detect the presence of specific pathogens In one study by Chakravorty et al in 2007, they characterized the V1-V8 regions of a variety of pathogens in order to determine which hypervariable regions would be most useful to include for disease-specific and broad assays Amongst other findings, they noted that the V3 region was best at identifying the genus for all pathogens tested, and that V6 was the most accurate at differentiating species between all CDC-watched pathogens tested, including Anthrax

While 16S hypervariable region analysis is a powerful tool for bacterial taxonomic studies, it struggles to differentiate between closely related species In the families Enterobacteriaceae, Clostridiaceae, and Peptostreptococcaceae, species can share up to 99% sequence similarity across the full 16S gene As a result, the V4 sequences can differ by only a few nucleotides, leaving reference databases unable to reliably classify these bacteria at lower taxonomic levels By limiting 16S analysis to select hypervariable regions, these studies can fail to observe differences in closely related taxa and group them into single taxonomic units, therefore underestimating the total diversity of the sample Furthermore, bacterial genomes can house multiple 16S genes, with the V1, V2, and V6 regions containing the greatest intraspecies diversity While not the most precise method of classifying bacterial species, analysis of the hypervariable regions remains one of the most useful tools available to bacterial community studies

16S ribosomal databases

The 16S rRNA gene is used as the standard for classification and identification of microbes, because it is present in most microbes and shows proper changes Type strains of 16S rRNA gene sequences for most bacteria and archaea are available on public databases such as NCBI However, the quality of the sequences found on these databases are often not validated Therefore, secondary databases that collect only 16S rRNA sequences are widely used The most frequently used databases are listed below:


http://eztaxon-eezbiocloudnet/ The EzTaxon-e database is an extension of the original EzTaxon database It contains comprehensive 16S rRNA gene sequences of taxa with valid names as well as sequences of uncultured taxa EzTaxon-e contains complete hierarchical taxonomic structure from phylum rank to species rank for the domain of bacteria and archaea

Ribosomal Database Project

http://rdpcmemsuedu/ The Ribosomal Database Project RDP is a curated database that offers ribosome data along with related programs and services The offerings include phylogenetically ordered alignments of ribosomal RNA rRNA sequences, derived phylogenetic trees, rRNA secondary structure diagrams and various software packages for handling, analyzing and displaying alignments and trees The data are available via ftp and electronic mail Certain analytic services are also provided by the electronic mail server


SILVA provides comprehensive, quality checked and regularly updated datasets of aligned small 16S/18S, SSU and large subunit 23S/28S, LSU ribosomal RNA rRNA sequences for all three domains of life as well as a suite of search, primer-design and alignment tools Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya


Greengenes is a quality controlled, comprehensive 16S reference database and taxonomy based on a de novo phylogeny that provides standard operational taxonomic unit sets The official home page for the site is http://greengenessecondgenomecom, and is licensed under the Creative Commons BY-SA 30 license


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External links

  • University of Washington Laboratory Medicine: Molecular Diagnosis | Bacterial Sequencing
  • The Ribosomal Database Project
  • Ribosomes and Ribosomal RNA: rRNA
  • SILVA rRNA database
  • Greengenes: 16S rDNA data and tools
  • EzBioCloud

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16S ribosomal RNA

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