, Volume 232, Issue 2, pp 417-434

Identification and characterization of microRNAs and their targets in the bioenergy plant switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

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MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of non-coding small endogenous RNAs with lengths of ~22 nucleotides (nt) that have been shown to regulate gene expression at the post-transcriptional levels by targeting mRNAs for degradation or by inhibiting protein translation. Although thousands of miRNAs have been identified in many species, miRNAs have not yet been identified in switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), one of the most important bioenergy crops in the United States and around the world. In this study, we identified 121 potential switchgrass miRNAs, belonging to 44 families, using a well-defined comparative genome-based computational approach. We also identified miRNA clusters and antisense miRNAs in switchgrass expressed sequences tags. These identified miRNAs potentially target 839 protein-coding genes, which can act as transcription factors, and take part in multiple biological and metabolic processes including sucrose and fat metabolism, signal transduction, stress response, and plant development. Gene ontology (GO) analysis, based on these targets, showed that 527 biological processes were involved. Twenty-five of these processes were demonstrated to participate in the metabolism of carbon, glucose, starch, fatty acid, and lignin and in xylem formation. According to pathway enrichment analysis based on Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG), 118 metabolism networks were found. These networks are involved in sucrose metabolism, fat metabolism, carbon fixation, hormone regulation, oxidative stress response, and the processing of other secondary metabolites.