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Poly(A) tails in Escherichia coli are hypothesized to provide unstructured single-stranded substrates that facilitate the degradation of mRNAs by ribonucleases. Here, we have investigated the role that such nucleases play in modulating polyadenylation in vivo by measuring total poly(A) levels, polyadenylation of specific transcripts, growth rates and cell viabilities in strains containing various amounts of poly(A) polymerase I (PAP I), polynucleotide phosphorylase (PNPase), RNase II and RNase E. The results demonstrate that both PNPase and RNase II are directly involved in regulating total in vivo poly(A) levels. RNase II is primarily responsible for degrading poly(A) tails associated with 23S rRNA, whereas PNPase is more effective in modulating the polyadenylation of the lpp and 16S rRNA transcripts. In contrast, RNase E appears to affect poly(A) levels indirectly through the generation of new 3′ termini that serve as substrates for PAP I. In addition, whereas excess PNPase suppresses polyadenylation by more than 70%, the toxicity associated with increased poly(A) levels is not reduced. Conversely, toxicity is significantly reduced in the presence of excess RNase II. Overproduction of RNase E leads to increased polyadenylation and no reduction in toxicity.