Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Mol Biol Evol. 2013 Nov;30(11):2369-82. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mst133. Epub 2013 Aug 2.

miRNAs: small genes with big potential in metazoan phylogenetics.

Author information

Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH.


microRNAs (miRNAs) are a key component of gene regulatory networks and have been implicated in the regulation of virtually every biological process found in multicellular eukaryotes. What makes them interesting from a phylogenetic perspective is the high conservation of primary sequence between taxa, their accrual in metazoan genomes through evolutionary time, and the rarity of secondary loss in most metazoan taxa. Despite these properties, the use of miRNAs as phylogenetic markers has not yet been discussed within a clear conceptual framework. Here we highlight five properties of miRNAs that underlie their utility in phylogenetics: 1) The processes of miRNA biogenesis enable the identification of novel miRNAs without prior knowledge of sequence; 2) The continuous addition of miRNA families to metazoan genomes through evolutionary time; 3) The low level of secondary gene loss in most metazoan taxa; 4) The low substitution rate in the mature miRNA sequence; and 5) The small probability of convergent evolution of two miRNAs. Phylogenetic analyses using both Bayesian and parsimony methods on a eumetazoan miRNA data set highlight the potential of miRNAs to become an invaluable new tool, especially when used as an additional line of evidence, to resolve previously intractable nodes within the tree of life.


microRNA; phylogenetics; rare genomic character

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Silverchair Information Systems
    Loading ...
    Support Center