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Deep sequencing was used to detect Flock House Virus (FHV)-derived small RNAs (viRNAs) that were inherited over generations. Small RNA libraries were constructed from 4 different samples: (a) FR1gfp-transgenic worms that can mount an RNAi response and should contain viRNAs (positive control); (b) rde-4(-/-) mutants (negative control as no viRNAs are expected to be produced); (c) FR1gfp; rde-4(-/-) worms that are two generations away from their rde-4(+/-) grandparents, i.e. worms that can themselves not produce viRNAs, but may have inherited viRNA from their grandparents; and (d) the F3 progeny of wild-type animals that contained the FR1gfp transgene (and therefore produced viRNAs), but have lost this transgene through outcrossing with non-transgenic wild-type worms. This tests whether the silencing reagent can exist without its template. The Small RNA libraries were constructed using a protocol that enriches for Dicer products which harbor a single phosphate at the 5’ end of the RNA (Zamore et al., 2000), such as primary siRNAs, and unlike RdRP products that harbor tri-phosphate ends (Parameswaran et al., 2010). This was the protocol of choice because we were interested in identifying viRNAs that are guaranteed to be derived from the original RNAi-competent parents (Alcazar et al., 2008), and rde-4 animals can not produce primary siRNAs (Grishok et al., 2000; Parrish and Fire, 2001). rde-4 animals are, however, not defective in secondary siRNA production (Blanchard et al., 2011), and can therefore continue to amplify secondary siRNAs de novo; such autonomously-produced siRNAs will not be distinguishable from inherited ones. The detection of rare primary siRNAs is important, as even a single “trigger” siRNA can induce a full-blown RNAi-response that is not proportional to the primary trigger (Groenenboom et al., 2005).In agreement with the functional assays we detected different viRNAs complementary to several regions of the viral genome in the positive control (FR1gfp), no viRNAs in the negative control (rde-4(-/-)), and a number of viRNAs in the worms that could not generate their own viRNAs and thus inherited these viRNAs from their grandparents (F3 generation FR1gfp; rde-4(-/-))(Table 2; Figure 4). Moreover, we detect viRNAs in the worms in which the FR1gfp transgene had been crossed out, confirming that the viRNA transmit in a template-independent manner. The inherited viRNA matched the two most abundant types of viRNAs detected in the positive control (Figure 4) and these viRNAs were all of the reverse orientation (negative strand, which typically exists in much lower quantities than the positive strand (Felix et al., 2011)); both observations make it highly unlikely that the detected viRNAs merely represent unspecific break-down products of the viral RNA. In regard to the low number of inherited viRNA reads it needs to be considered that our protocol enriches specifically for rare primary viRNA species. Moreover, these viRNA species are derived from a response mounted in RNAi-competent grandparents, and are therefore possibly diluted over the course of several generations. Taken together, our results support the genetic experiments that argued for the existence of trans-acting factors that are transmitted in a non-Mendelian manner to ensuing generations. 4 samples examined. Small RNA libraries generated from: C. elegans animals.

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