Uncovering microRNA clues

jbrehm2, April 16, 2014 | View original publication

Uncovering microRNA clues

Tiny molecules called microRNAs are powerful agents in regulating gene expression, but the mechanisms that regulate them aren’t well understood. UNL plant scientist Bin Yu and his team have uncovered important clues about how plant cells control microRNA function, a step toward better understanding crop development and stress response.

The team’s findings were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Bin’s team reported earlier research related to microRNAs in PNAS last fall.

MicroRNAs regulate gene expression by binding to messenger RNAs, molecules that convey a gene’s information to make proteins. Once binding occurs, a complex of proteins breaks the messenger RNA into two fragments, which blocks gene expression.

In the new findings, Yu’s team report they have uncovered a protein and the mechanism employed to help regulate that process in Arabidopsis, a common plant model.

MicroRNAs play a significant role in regulating diverse cellular processes in both plants and animals. Understanding how they’re regulated will improve knowledge of plant and animal development and may lead to enhancing crops’ ability to handle stresses, such as pests and droughts.

Yu’s UNL coauthors are graduate research assistant Meng Xie; postdoctoral research associate Shuxin Zhang and undergraduate research assistant Carissa Vinovskis, along with collaborators Xuemei Chen at the University of California, Riverside and Guodong Ren at China’s Fudan University.

The National Science Foundation helps fund Yu’s research.