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Annotation of primate miRNAs by high throughput sequencing of small RNA libraries

Michael Dannemann1*, Birgit Nickel1, Esther Lizano12, Hernán A Burbano13 and Janet Kelso1*

Author affiliations

1 Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Deutscher Platz 6, Leipzig 04103, Germany

2 Center for Genomic Regulation, Department of Genetic Causes of Disease, C/Dr. Aiguader 88, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

3 Current address: Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Department of Molecular Biology, Spemannstrasse 37-39, Tübingen 72076, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2012, 13:116  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-116

Published: 27 March 2012



In addition to genome sequencing, accurate functional annotation of genomes is required in order to carry out comparative and evolutionary analyses between species. Among primates, the human genome is the most extensively annotated. Human miRNA gene annotation is based on multiple lines of evidence including evidence for expression as well as prediction of the characteristic hairpin structure. In contrast, most miRNA genes in non-human primates are annotated based on homology without any expression evidence. We have sequenced small-RNA libraries from chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan and rhesus macaque from multiple individuals and tissues. Using patterns of miRNA expression in conjunction with a model of miRNA biogenesis we used these high-throughput sequencing data to identify novel miRNAs in non-human primates.


We predicted 47 new miRNAs in chimpanzee, 240 in gorilla, 55 in orangutan and 47 in rhesus macaque. The algorithm we used was able to predict 64% of the previously known miRNAs in chimpanzee, 94% in gorilla, 61% in orangutan and 71% in rhesus macaque. We therefore added evidence for expression in between one and five tissues to miRNAs that were previously annotated based only on homology to human miRNAs. We increased from 60 to 175 the number miRNAs that are located in orthologous regions in humans and the four non-human primate species studied here.


In this study we provide expression evidence for homology-based annotated miRNAs and predict de novo miRNAs in four non-human primate species. We increased the number of annotated miRNA genes and provided evidence for their expression in four non-human primates. Similar approaches using different individuals and tissues would improve annotation in non-human primates and allow for further comparative studies in the future.