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    MicroRNA play an important role in post-transcriptional regulation of most transcripts in the human genome, but their evolution across the primate lineage is largely uncharacterized. A particular miRNA can have one to thousands of messenger RNA targets, establishing the potential for a small change in sequence or overall miRNA structure to have profound phenotypic effects. However, the majority of non-human primate miRNA is predicted solely by homology to the human genome and lacks experimental validation. In the present study, we sequenced thirteen species representing a wide range of the primate phylogeny. Hundreds of miRNA were validated, and the number of species with experimentally validated miRNA was tripled. These species include a sister taxon to humans (bonobo) and basal primates (aye-aye, mouse lemur, galago). Consistent with previous studies, we found the seed region and mature miRNA to be highly conserved across primates, with overall structural conservation of the pre-miRNA hairpin. However, there were a number of interesting exceptions, including a seed shift due to structural changes in miR-501. We also identified an increase in the number of miR-320 paralogs throughout primate evolution. Many of these non-conserved miRNA appear to regulate neuronal processes, illustrating the importance of investigating miRNA to learn more about human evolution.

    Citation

    Jennifer C McCreight, Sean E Schneider, Damien B Wilburn, Willie J Swanson. Evolution of microRNA in primates. PloS one. 2017;12(6):e0176596

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    PMID: 28640911

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