Understanding the organization of a bacterial cell requires the elucidation of the mechanisms by which proteins localize to particular subcellular sites. Thus far, such mechanisms have been suggested to rely on embedded features of the localized proteins. Here, we report that certain messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in Escherichia coli are targeted to the future destination of their encoded proteins, cytoplasm, poles, or inner membrane in a translation-independent manner. Cis-acting sequences within the transmembrane-coding sequence of the membrane proteins are necessary and sufficient for mRNA targeting to the membrane. In contrast to the view that transcription and translation are coupled in bacteria, our results show that, subsequent to their synthesis, certain mRNAs are capable of migrating to particular domains in the cell where their future protein products are required.
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