Based on the experimental evidence that translating ribosomes stabilize the mRNAs, we introduce and study a theoretical model for the dynamic shielding of mRNA by ribosomes. We present an improved fitting of published decay assay data in E. coli and show that only one third of the decay patterns are exponential. Our new transcriptome-wide estimate of the average lifetimes and mRNA half-lives shows that these timescales are considerably shorter than previous estimates. We also explain why there is a negative correlation between mRNA length and average lifetime when the mRNAs are subdivided in classes sharing the same degradation parameters. As a by-product, our model indicates that co-transcriptional translation in E. coli may be less common than previously believed.
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