MicroRNAs Emerged Early in Evolution

Posted on October 2, 2008  Comments (1)

New Research Shows MicroRNAs Emerged Early in Evolution

“MicroRNAs have been available to regulate and shape gene expression as far back as we can go in animal evolution—they might even predate animals,” says Bartel, a leader in the discovery and functional study of microRNAs. “They might have helped to usher in the era of multi-cellular animal life.”

First discovered in 1993, microRNAs are strands of RNA that are 21-24 nucleotides in length. They dampen gene expression by intercepting messenger RNA before it can turn the cellular crank that translates a gene into a protein. Earlier, Bartel’s research team showed that each microRNA can regulate the expression of hundreds of genes.

The ability of microRNAs to silence gene expression likely evolved from a more ancient defense against viruses, bacteria, and other mobile genetic elements that can mutate host DNA.

The scientists determined that the starlet sea anemone has both microRNAs and piRNAs. In addition, the anemone makes proteins resembling those that interact with these small RNAs in humans. Both types of small RNA were also found in the sponge. The third target of their search, Trichoplax, did not contain any microRNAs, though Bartel suspects they may have existed in ancestral forms and later disappeared.

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One Response to “MicroRNAs Emerged Early in Evolution”

  1. Curious Cat Science Blog » Giant Single-Celled Protists
    November 21st, 2008 @ 11:54 pm

    “I personally think now that the whole Precambrian may have been exclusively the reign of protists,” says Matz. “Our observations open up this possible way of interpreting the Precambrian fossil record.”

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