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AgriLife Research scientists work with RNA silencing and plant stem cells
Date:5/16/2011

he abbreviation miR166/165 refers to microRNA, a type of small RNA molecule that regulates gene expression, Zhang explained. MicroRNAs are deceptively simple in structure, often only about 20 bases in length, whereas regular RNA may be composed of hundreds or thousands of bases.

Though composed of only a few bases, microRNAs often perform a critical function by switching the expression of certain genes off. Turning off gene expression is just as important a regulatory mechanism in plant development as switching genes on, Zhang noted.

Interfering with microRNA being loaded into a 'decoy' protein can cause various mutant phenotypes such as stunted growth in Arabidopsis plants. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns)

This switching-off function of microRNA has been known for more than a decade. Further work had shown that it is microRNAs that actually guide the argonaute to actually do the switching off, sort of how a software application controls a smart phone or computer, according to Zhang.

Work by Zhang's team had demonstrated that if miR166/165 did not load into AGO10, or the AGO10 gene was missing, then the meristem part of the plant would be deformed, but why this was so remained a mystery.

Zhang and his team proposed that AGO10 functions as "a decoy for miR166/165″ to prevent it being loaded into other AGO proteins, particularly AGO1, which "plays a potent but inhibitory role in correct development of the meristem area cells," he said.

"In other words, if miR166/165 is loaded into AGO1, they would shut their target genes off," Zhang said. "But if miR166/165 is loaded into AGO10 protein, they won't switch-off target genes. Thus, AGO10 works in an opposite way compared to AGO1: It protects target genes and secures their expression."


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Contact: Robert Burns
rd-burns@tamu.edu
903-834-6191
Texas A&M AgriLife Communications
Source:Eurekalert

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