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MicroRNAs play a big part in gene regulation - and evolution

Regulating when and where certain proteins are made is crucial to the normal functioning of living things. To make proteins, information from DNA is transcribed into RNA molecules and then translated into the amino acids building blocks of proteins. But not all genes code for proteins--some make RNA molecules called microRNAs. These small RNA molecules interfere with--and therefore control--the production of proteins. A new paper in PLoS Computational Biology shows how important microRNAs are in the biology of diverse.

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.

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Citation: Grün D, Wang YL, Langenberger D, Gunsalus KC, Rajewsky N (2005) MicroRN
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Source:Public Library of Science


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