, Volume 80, Issue 1, pp 17-36
Date: 27 Aug 2011

MicroRNAs and their diverse functions in plants

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Abstract

microRNAs (miRNAs) are an extensive class of newly identified small RNAs, which regulate gene expression at the post-transcriptional level by mRNA cleavage or translation inhibition. Currently, there are 3,070 miRNAs deposited in the public available miRNA database; these miRNAs were obtained from 43 plant species using both computational (comparative genomics) and experimental (direct cloning and deep sequencing) approaches. Like other signaling molecules, plant miRNAs can also be moved from one tissue to another through the vascular system. These mobile miRNAs may play an important role in plant nutrient homeostasis and response to environmental biotic and abiotic stresses. In addition, miRNAs also control a wide range of biological and metabolic processes, including developmental timing, tissue-specific development, and stem cell maintenance and differentiation. Currently, a majority of plant miRNA-related researches are purely descriptive, and provide no further detailed mechanistic insight into miRNA-mediated gene regulation and other functions. To better understand the function and regulatory mechanisms of plant miRNAs, more strategies need to be employed to investigate the functions of miRNAs and their associated signaling pathways and gene networks. Elucidating the evolutionary mechanism of miRNAs is also important. It is possible to develop a novel miRNA-based biotechnology for improving plant yield, quality and tolerance to environmental biotic and abiotic stresses besides focusing on basic genetic studies.