Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 33157039
Link to DOI – 10.1016/j.cell.2020.09.065
Cell 2020 Dec; 183(6): 1551-1561.e12
Retrons are bacterial genetic elements comprised of a reverse transcriptase (RT) and a non-coding RNA (ncRNA). The RT uses the ncRNA as template, generating a chimeric RNA/DNA molecule in which the RNA and DNA components are covalently linked. Although retrons were discovered three decades ago, their function remained unknown. We report that retrons function as anti-phage defense systems. The defensive unit is composed of three components: the RT, the ncRNA, and an effector protein. We examined multiple retron systems and show that they confer defense against a broad range of phages via abortive infection. Focusing on retron Ec48, we show evidence that it “guards” RecBCD, a complex with central anti-phage functions in bacteria. Inhibition of RecBCD by phage proteins activates the retron, leading to abortive infection and cell death. Thus, the Ec48 retron forms a second line of defense that is triggered if the first lines of defense have collapsed.