Degradation of RNA plays a central role in RNA metabolism. In recent years, our knowledge of the mechanisms of RNA degradation has increased considerably with discovery of the participating RNases and analysis of mutants affected in the various degradative pathways. Among these processes, mRNA decay and stable RNA degradation generally have been considered distinct, and also separate from RNA maturation. In this review, each of these processes is described, as it is currently understood in bacteria. The picture that emerges is that decay of mRNA and degradation of stable RNA share many common features, and that their initial steps also overlap with those of RNA maturation. Thus, bacterial cells do not contain dedicated machinery for degradation of different classes of RNA or for different processes. Rather, only the specificity of the RNase and the accessibility of the substrate determine whether or not a particular RNA will be acted upon.
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