Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Sculpting the maturation, softening and ethylene pathway: The influences of microRNAs on tomato fruits

Jinhua Zuo, Benzhong Zhu, Daqi Fu, Yi Zhu, Yuanzheng Ma, Lihong Chi, Zheng Ju, Yunxiang Wang, Baiqiang Zhai and Yunbo Luo*

  • * Corresponding author: Yunbo Luo

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

Laboratory of Postharvest Molecular Biology of Fruits and vegetables, Department of Food Biotechnology, College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering, China Agricultural University, Beijing, 100083, China

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:7  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-7

Published: 9 January 2012



MicroRNAs (miRNAs), a ubiquitous class of short RNAs, play vital roles in physiological and biochemical processes in plants by mediating gene silencing at post-transcriptional (PTGS) level. Tomato is a model system to study molecular basis of fleshy fruit ripening and senescence, ethylene biosynthesis and signal transduction owing to its genetic and molecular tractability. To study the functions of miRNAs in tomato fruit ripening and senescence, and their possible roles in ethylene response, the next generation sequencing method was employed to identify miRNAs in tomato fruit. Bioinformatics and molecular biology approaches were combined to profile the miRNAs expression patterns at three different fruit ripening stages and by exogenous ethylene treatment.


In addition to 7 novel miRNA families, 103 conserved miRNAs belonging to 24 families and 10 non-conserved miRNAs matching 9 families were identified in our libraries. The targets of many these miRNAs were predicted to be transcriptional factors. Other targets are known to play roles in the regulation of metabolic processes. Interestingly, some targets were predicted to be involved in fruit ripening and softening, such as Pectate Lyase, beta-galactosidase, while a few others were predicted to be involved in ethylene biosynthesis and signaling pathway, such as ACS, EIN2 and CTR1. The expression patterns of a number of such miRNAs at three ripening stages were confirmed by stem-loop RT-PCR, which showed a strong negative correlation with that of their targets. The regulation of exogenous ethylene on miRNAs expression profiles were analyzed simultaneously, and 3 down-regulated, 5 up-regulated miRNAs were found in this study.


A combination of high throughput sequencing and molecular biology approaches was used to explore the involvement of miRNAs during fruit ripening. Several miRNAs showed differential expression profiles during fruit ripening, and a number of miRNAs were influenced by ethylene treatment. The results suggest the importance of miRNAs in fruit ripening and ethylene response.