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Dev Cell. 2016 Feb 8;36(3):276-89. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2016.01.010.

Ancient trans-Acting siRNAs Confer Robustness and Sensitivity onto the Auxin Response.

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Watson School of Biological Sciences, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, NY 11724, USA.
National Institute for Basic Biology, Okazaki 444-8585, Japan; Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology, Japan Science and Technology Agency, Okazaki 444-8585, Japan.
Department of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA.
Watson School of Biological Sciences, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, NY 11724, USA; Center for Plant Molecular Biology, University of Tübingen, 72076 Tübingen, Germany. Electronic address:


Novel developmental programs often evolve via cooption of existing genetic networks. To understand this process, we explored cooption of the TAS3 tasiRNA pathway in the moss Physcomitrella patens. We find an ancestral function for this repeatedly redeployed pathway in the spatial regulation of a conserved set of Auxin Response Factors. In moss, this results in stochastic patterning of the filamentous protonemal tissue. Through modeling and experimentation, we demonstrate that tasiRNA regulation confers sensitivity and robustness onto the auxin response. Increased auxin sensitivity parallels increased developmental sensitivity to nitrogen, a key environmental signal. We propose that the properties lent to the auxin response network, along with the ability to stochastically modulate development in response to environmental cues, have contributed to repeated cooption of the tasiRNA-ARF module during evolution. The signaling properties of a genetic network, and not just its developmental output, are thus critical to understanding evolution of multicellular forms.


Physcomitrella; auxin; evolution; gene regulatory network; small RNA

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