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Mol Biol Evol. 2018 Jun 1;35(6):1451-1462. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msy046.

An Evaluation of Function of Multicopy Noncoding RNAs in Mammals Using ENCODE/FANTOM Data and Comparative Genomics.

Author information

1
Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology, Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel, Kiel, Germany.
2
Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand.
3
Biomolecular Interaction Centre, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.
4
Bioinformatics Institute, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

Abstract

Mammalian diversification has coincided with a rapid proliferation of various types of noncoding RNAs, including members of both snRNAs and snoRNAs. The significance of this expansion however remains obscure. While some ncRNA copy-number expansions have been linked to functionally tractable effects, such events may equally likely be neutral, perhaps as a result of random retrotransposition. Hindering progress in our understanding of such observations is the difficulty in establishing function for the diverse features that have been identified in our own genome. Projects such as ENCODE and FANTOM have revealed a hidden world of genomic expression patterns, as well as a host of other potential indicators of biological function. However, such projects have been criticized, particularly from practitioners in the field of molecular evolution, where many suspect these data provide limited insight into biological function. The molecular evolution community has largely taken a skeptical view, thus it is important to establish tests of function. We use a range of data, including data drawn from ENCODE and FANTOM, to examine the case for function for the recent copy number expansion in mammals of six evolutionarily ancient RNA families involved in splicing and rRNA maturation. We use several criteria to assess evidence for function: conservation of sequence and structure, genomic synteny, evidence for transposition, and evidence for species-specific expression. Applying these criteria, we find that only a minority of loci show strong evidence for function and that, for the majority, we cannot reject the null hypothesis of no function.

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