Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Biology (Cell Biology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology)

Major Professor

Lindsey Shaw, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kathleen Scott, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James Riordan, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Burt Anderson, Ph.D.


small RNA polymerase subunits, RpoE, δ subunit, RpoZ, ω subunit, small regulatory RNA, sRNA


Staphylococcus aureus is a highly problematic human pathogen due to its ability to cause devastating infections, paired with a capacity to withstand the action of a large fraction of available antibiotics. Both pathogenicity and antibiotic resistance are encoded by numerous genomic elements, though the expression of these factors is energetically costly and not always beneficial for cellular survival. Therefore, S. aureus has developed sophisticated regulatory networks to integrate a multitude of signals, enabling it to navigate the delicate balance between its pathogenic lifestyle and baseline needs for cellular energy homeostasis. It is thus imperative to study S. aureus behavior and its underlying regulatory circuits not as isolated entities, but rather holistically as part of an optimized, highly interconnected system. To do so, we must seek to achieve a comprehensive understanding of all encoded regulators, that is, not only historically well defined elements like transcription factors, two-component systems and σ factors, but also the lesser studied ’non-classical’ regulators like small regulatory RNAs and regulatory subunits of RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RNAP). To this end, we describe here the identification of numerous, previously unidentified sRNAs and their incorporation into a new standardized cataloging and annotation system. The identification and annotation procedures are based on a number of RNAseq experiments performed in three different S. aureus backgrounds (MRSA252, NCTC 8325, and USA300). We then apply RNAseq to evaluate the expression patterns of these elements when grown in human serum, thus probing for possible connections between sRNAs and S. aureus pathogenicity. In addition, we characterize the role of two small RNAP subunits, δ and ω, for S. aureus RNAP function. δ is of particular interest, as it is unique to Gram-positive bacteria; deletion of the subunit results in a loss of transcriptional stringency and decreased expression of numerous virulence determinants. These alterations are accompanied by impaired survival of the δ mutant in whole human blood, increased phagocytosis by human leukocytes, and decreased survival in a murine model septicemia when compared to its parental strain. In contrast, there is no indication of direct and gene-specific transcriptional functions for ω. Rather, we describe a role for ω in the structural integrity of the RNAP complex, where its loss leads to a structural disturbance in the RNAP complex that causes altered affinities for (alternative) σ factors and the δ subunit. Overall, the findings presented here contribute to a better understanding of the intricate regulatory systems that guide the lifestyle of an organism that presents an immense burden to patients and our health care system alike.

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Microbiology Commons