Matching up microRNAs with the genes they regulate is a daunting task in any organism, considering that many microRNAs have multiple target genes and that even a fruit fly (Drosophila) has up to 14,000 genes that microRNAs could influence.
Not intimidated by the challenge, Dominic Grün and his colleagues at New York University's Center for Comparative Functional Genomics tapped into the power of computation to search for microRNAs and their target genes in the entire genomes of seven Drosophila species. The authors then compared identified matches to matches they had found previously in vertebrates.
The results provide the most extensive microRNA target gene predictions to date. Based on the known functions of targets, the authors could furthermore assign a biological function to 70% of all microRNAs. "For the first time [this study] compares gene regulation of microRNAs between insects and vertebrates and thus allows insights into the importance and function of microRNAs across huge evolutionary time scales, suggesting that some microRNAs could be involved in shaping the diversity of life," says lead author Nikolaus Rajewsky.
The information will be a vital tool for the microRNA research community, providing opportunities to test predicted biological functions of microRNAs and to explore their evolutionary significance.
Citation: Grün D, Wang YL, Langenberger D, Gunsalus KC, Rajewsky N (2005) MicroRN A target predictions across seven Drosophila species. PLoS Comp Biol 1(1): e13.