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PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e21330. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021330. Epub 2011 Jun 23.

Regulation of gene expression in plants through miRNA inactivation.

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Monsanto Company, Chesterfield, Missouri, United States of America.


Eukaryotic organisms possess a complex RNA-directed gene expression regulatory network allowing the production of unique gene expression patterns. A recent addition to the repertoire of RNA-based gene regulation is miRNA target decoys, endogenous RNA that can negatively regulate miRNA activity. miRNA decoys have been shown to be a valuable tool for understanding the function of several miRNA families in plants and invertebrates. Engineering and precise manipulation of an endogenous RNA regulatory network through modification of miRNA activity also affords a significant opportunity to achieve a desired outcome of enhanced plant development or response to environmental stresses. Here we report that expression of miRNA decoys as single or heteromeric non-cleavable microRNA (miRNA) sites embedded in either non-protein-coding or within the 3' untranslated region of protein-coding transcripts can regulate the expression of one or more miRNA targets. By altering the sequence of the miRNA decoy sites, we were able to attenuate miRNA inactivation, which allowed for fine regulation of native miRNA targets and the production of a desirable range of plant phenotypes. Thus, our results demonstrate miRNA decoys are a flexible and robust tool, not only for studying miRNA function, but also for targeted engineering of gene expression in plants. Computational analysis of the Arabidopsis transcriptome revealed a number of potential miRNA decoys, suggesting that endogenous decoys may have an important role in natural modulation of expression in plants.

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