Review Article

The evolutionary origin of plant and animal microRNAs

  • Nature Ecology & Evolution 1, Article number: 0027 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41559-016-0027
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Abstract

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a unique class of short endogenous RNAs, which have become known in the past few decades as major players in gene regulation at the post-transcriptional level. Their regulatory roles make miRNAs crucial for normal development and physiology in several distinct groups of eukaryotes including plants and animals. The common notion is that miRNAs have evolved independently in those distinct lineages, but recent evidence from non-bilaterian metazoans, plants, and various algae raise the possibility that the last common ancestor of these lineages might already have employed an miRNA pathway for post-transcriptional regulation. In this Review we present the commonalities and differences of the miRNA pathways in various eukaryotes and discuss the contrasting scenarios of their possible evolutionary origin and their proposed link to organismal complexity and multicellularity.

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Acknowledgements

Small RNA research in the Moran lab is supported by a European Research Council Starting Grant (CNIDARIAMICRORNA, 637456) and a Young Investigator Grant by the German–Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (I-1058-203.7-2013). Research in the Technau group is supported by grants of the Austrian Research Fund FWF (P24858 and P22618).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, The Hebrew University Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91904, Israel.

    • Yehu Moran
    •  & Maayan Agron
  2. Department of Molecular Evolution and Development, Centre of Organismal Systems Biology, University of Vienna, Althanstr. 14, 1090 Vienna, Austria.

    • Daniela Praher
    •  & Ulrich Technau

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Contributions

Y.M. and U.T. conceived the manuscript, Y.M., M.A., D.P. and U.T. wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The author declares no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Yehu Moran or Ulrich Technau.