Open Access Open Badges Research article

Characterisation of novel microRNAs in the Black flying fox (Pteropus alecto) by deep sequencing

Christopher Cowled1*, Cameron R Stewart1, Vladimir A Likic2, Marc R Friedländer3, Mary Tachedjian1, Kristie A Jenkins1, Mark L Tizard1, Pauline Cottee1, Glenn A Marsh1, Peng Zhou1, Michelle L Baker1, Andrew G Bean1 and Lin-fa Wang14

Author Affiliations

1 CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory, 5 Portarlington Rd, Geelong East, Victoria 3220, Australia

2 Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute, Melbourne, Australia

3 Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) and Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Barcelona, Spain

4 Program in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore 169857, Singapore

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:682  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-682

Published: 15 August 2014



Bats are a major source of new and emerging viral diseases. Despite the fact that bats carry and shed highly pathogenic viruses including Ebola, Nipah and SARS, they rarely display clinical symptoms of infection. Host factors influencing viral replication are poorly understood in bats and are likely to include both pre- and post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms. MicroRNAs are a major mechanism of post-transcriptional gene regulation, however very little is known about them in bats.


This study describes 399 microRNAs identified by deep sequencing of small RNA isolated from tissues of the Black flying fox, Pteropus alecto, a confirmed natural reservoir of the human pathogens Hendra virus and Australian bat lyssavirus. Of the microRNAs identified, more than 100 are unique amongst vertebrates, including a subset containing mutations in critical seed regions. Clusters of rapidly-evolving microRNAs were identified, as well as microRNAs predicted to target genes involved in antiviral immunity, the DNA damage response, apoptosis and autophagy. Closer inspection of the predicted targets for several highly supported novel miRNA candidates suggests putative roles in host-virus interaction.


MicroRNAs are likely to play major roles in regulating virus-host interaction in bats, via dampening of inflammatory responses (limiting the effects of immunopathology), and directly limiting the extent of viral replication, either through restricting the availability of essential factors or by controlling apoptosis. Characterisation of the bat microRNA repertoire is an essential step towards understanding transcriptional regulation during viral infection, and will assist in the identification of mechanisms that enable bats to act as natural virus reservoirs. This in turn will facilitate the development of antiviral strategies for use in humans and other species.

Bats; Chiroptera; Pteropus alecto; MicroRNA; Non-coding RNA; Transcriptome