Computational identification and evolutionaty enalysis of metazoan micrornas
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MicroRNAs are a large family of 21-26 nucleotide non-coding RNAs with a role in the post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression. In recent years, microRNAs have been proposed to play a significant role in the expansion of organism complexity. MicroRNAs are expressed in a cell or tissue-specific manner during embryonic development, suggesting a role in cellular differentiation. For example, Let-7 is a metazoan microRNA that acts as developmental timer between larval stages in C. elegans. We conducted a comparative study that determined the distribution of microRNA families among metazoans, including the identification of new family members for several species. MicroRNA families appear to have evolved in bursts of evolution that correlate with the advent of major metazoan groups such as vertebrates, eutherians, primates and hominids. Most microRNA families identified in these organisms appeared with or after the advent of vertebrates. Only a few of them appear to be shared between vertebrates and invertebrates. The distribution of these microRNA families supports the idea that at least one whole genome duplication event (WGS) predates the advent of vertebrates. Gene ontology analyses of the genes these microRNA families regulate show enrichments for functions related to cell differentiation and morphogenesis. MicroRNA genes appear to be under great selective constraints. Identification of conserved regions by comparative genomics allows for the computational identification of microRNAs. We have identified and characterized ultraconserved regions between the genomes of the honey bee (Apis mellifera) and the parasitic wasp (Nasonia vitripennis), and developed a strategy for the identification of microRNAs based on regions of ultraconservation. Ultraconserved regions preferentially localize within introns and intergenic regions, and are enriched in functions related to neural development. Introns harboring ultraconserved elements appear to be under negative selection and under a level of constraint that is higher than in their exonic counterparts. This level of constraint suggests functional roles yet to be discovered and suggests that introns are major players in the regulation of biological processes. Our computational strategy was able to identify new microRNA genes shared between honey bee and wasp. We recovered 41 of 45 previously validated microRNAs for these organisms, and we identified several new ones. A significant fraction of these microRNA candidates are located in introns and intergenic regions and are organized in genomic clusters. Expression of 13 of these new candidates was verified by 454 sequencing.
Anzola Lagos, Juan Manuel (2008). Computational identification and evolutionaty enalysis of metazoan micrornas. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from