Whole-transcriptome sequencing studies from recent years revealed an unexpected complexity in transcriptomes of bacteria and archaea, including abundant non-coding RNAs, cis-antisense transcription and regulatory untranslated regions (UTRs). Understanding the functional relevance of the plethora of non-coding RNAs in a given organism is challenging, especially since some of these RNAs were attributed to 'transcriptional noise'. To allow the search for conserved transcriptomic elements we produced comparative transcriptome maps for multiple species across the microbial tree of life. These transcriptome maps are detailed in annotations, comparable by gene families, and BLAST-searchable by user provided sequences. Our transcriptome collection includes 18 model organisms spanning 10 phyla/subphyla of bacteria and archaea that were sequenced using standardized RNA-seq methods. The utility of the comparative approach, as implemented in our web server, is demonstrated by highlighting genes with exceptionally long 5UTRs across species, which correspond to many known riboswitches and further suggest novel putative regulatory elements. Our study provides a standardized reference transcriptome to major clinically and environmentally important microbial phyla.
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