Characterization of five microRNA families in maize

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Abstract

In recent years, microRNAs (miRNAs) have polarized the interest of the scientific community as a new category of gene expression regulators, present in both plants and animals. Plant miRNAs are involved in processes such as plant development, organ identity, and stress response. Nonetheless, knowledge of their functions is still incomplete, and it is conceivable that further new processes in which they are involved will be discovered. For these reasons, structural and functional characterization of MIR genes, that are also in crop species such as Zea mays L., becomes instrumental in addressing genetic and molecular mechanisms controlling phenotype determination and phenotypic adaptation to growing conditions. The present study contributes to the characterization of five miRNA families in maize, from the determination of their expression pattern in different maize tissues and genotypes, to the identification of putative targets by bioinformatic means and subsequent experimental validation of three targets by modified 5′ RACE experiments. Furthermore, 30 different MIR genes belonging to these five miRNA families were analysed by their attribution to maize chromosomes using oat–maize addition lines and by investigating their phylogenetic relationship with genes from other cereals. In particular, sequence homology was determined by the reciprocal best BLAST hit approach, to define groups of homologous genes between maize, rice, and sorghum.

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