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In silico identification of conserved microRNAs in large number of diverse plant species

Ramanjulu Sunkar* and Guru Jagadeeswaran

Author Affiliations

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078, USA

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BMC Plant Biology 2008, 8:37  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-8-37

Published: 16 April 2008



MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are recently discovered small non-coding RNAs that play pivotal roles in gene expression, specifically at the post-transcriptional level in plants and animals. Identification of miRNAs in large number of diverse plant species is important to understand the evolution of miRNAs and miRNA-targeted gene regulations. Now-a-days, publicly available databases play a central role in the in-silico biology. Because, at least ~21 miRNA families are conserved in higher plants, a homology based search using these databases can help identify orthologs or paralogs in plants.


We searched all publicly available nucleotide databases of genome survey sequences (GSS), high-throughput genomics sequences (HTGS), expressed sequenced tags (ESTs) and nonredundant (NR) nucleotides and identified 682 miRNAs in 155 diverse plant species. We found more than 15 conserved miRNA families in 11 plant species, 10 to14 families in 10 plant species and 5 to 9 families in 29 plant species. Nineteen conserved miRNA families were identified in important model legumes such as Medicago, Lotus and soybean. Five miRNA families – miR319, miR156/157, miR169, miR165/166 and miR394 – were found in 51, 45, 41, 40 and 40 diverse plant species, respectively. miR403 homologs were found in 16 dicots, whereas miR437 and miR444 homologs, as well as the miR396d/e variant of the miR396 family, were found only in monocots, thus providing large-scale authenticity for the dicot- and monocot-specific miRNAs. Furthermore, we provide computational and/or experimental evidence for the conservation of 6 newly found Arabidopsis miRNA homologs (miR158, miR391, miR824, miR825, miR827 and miR840) and 2 small RNAs (small-85 and small-87) in Brassica spp.


Using all publicly available nucleotide databases, 682 miRNAs were identified in 155 diverse plant species. By combining the expression analysis with the computational approach, we found that 6 miRNAs and 2 small RNAs that have been identified only in Arabidopsis thus far, are also conserved in Brassica spp. These findings will be useful for tracing the evolution of small RNAs by examining their expression in common ancestors of the Arabidopsis-Brassica lineage.