Conservation and divergence in plant microRNAs
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MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small, non-coding RNAs that regulate gene expression in eukaryotic cells. The past decade has seen an explosion in our understanding of the sets of miRNA genes encoded in the genomes in different species of plants and the mechanisms by which miRNAs interact with target RNAs. A subset of miRNA families (and their binding sites in target RNAs) are conserved between angiosperms and basal plants, suggesting they predate the divergence of existing lineages of plants. However, the majority of miRNA families expressed by any given plant species have a narrow phylogenetic distribution. As a group, these “young” miRNAs genes appear to be evolutionarily fluid and lack clearly understood biological function. The goal of this review is to summarize our understanding of the sets of miRNA genes and miRNA targets that exist in various plant species and to discuss hypotheses that explain the patterns of conservation and divergence observed among microRNAs in plants.