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Mol Biol Evol. 2013 Dec;30(12):2541-52. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mst159. Epub 2013 Sep 11.

The evolution of microRNA pathway protein components in Cnidaria.

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Department for Molecular Evolution and Development, Center for Organismal Systems Biology, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.


In the last decade, it became evident that posttranscriptional regulation of gene expression by microRNAs is a central biological process in both plants and animals. Yet, our knowledge about microRNA biogenesis and utilization in animals stems mostly from the study of Bilateria. In this study, we identified genes encoding the protein components of different parts of the microRNA pathway in Cnidaria, the likely sister phylum of Bilateria. These genes originated from three cnidarian lineages (sea anemones, stony corals, and hydras) that are separated by at least 500 My from one another. We studied the expression and phylogeny of the cnidarian homologs of Drosha and Pasha (DGCR8) that compose the microprocessor, the RNAse III enzyme Dicer and its partners, the HEN1 methyltransferase, the Argonaute protein effectors, as well as members of the GW182 protein family. We further reveal that whereas the bilaterian dicer partners Loquacious/TRBP and PACT are absent from Cnidaria, this phylum contains homologs of the double-stranded RNA-binding protein HYL1, the Dicer partner found in plants. We also identified HYL1 homologs in a sponge and a ctenophore. This finding raises questions regarding the independent evolution of the microRNA pathway in plants and animals, and together with the other results shed new light on the evolution of an important regulatory pathway.


Cnidaria; Nematostella; microRNA; posttranscriptional regulation

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