Significant strides in small regulatory RNA research in plants

Molecular biology experienced a significant shift in thinking in recent years with growing evidence that microRNAs (miRNAs) play a major role in the control of eukaryotic gene expression during development. These tiny RNAs, which have sequence complimentarity to short segments of protein-coding genes, are encoded in regions of the genome distinct from other recognized genes. miRNAs function similarly to small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) which are equivalently sized, tiny RNAs that target viral genomes, transposons, and other foreign or aberrant RNA molecules for destruction. siRNAs have been studied for a number of years in plants since their discovery as the causal agent of RNA silencing, which is believed to represent a natural defense mechanism against viral infection and the activity of transposable elements. siRNAs typically target foreign and potentially pathogenic RNAs for destruction, whereas miRNAs target endogenous messenger RNAs for regulation. miRNAs often show a high degree of evolutionary conservation across species, and there is growing evidence that they represent a major class of regulatory molecule having broad significance in a wide range of developmental processes in plants and animals. miRNAs have been found to play specific roles in plant development, including the regulation of flowering time and floral organ identity, and leaf polarity and morphology.

Researchers William J. Lucas at the University of California, Davis, and Tony J. Lough at AgriGenesis Biosciences, Auckland, New Zealand, and their coauthors, show that small RNA corresponding to authentic siRNAs and miRNAs can enter and move through the phloem of several plant species. Furthermore, these authors identify a novel protein, Cucurbita maxima PHLOEM SMALL RNA-BINDING PROTEIN1 (CmPSRP1), and show that it likely plays a role in trafficking of small RNA through the phloem. The research is significant because small RNAs have not previously been observed in the phloem. I

Contact: Nancy Eckardt
American Society of Plant Biologists

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