Regulation of rice root development by a retrotransposon acting as a microRNA sponge

16 Oct 2017

It is well documented that transposable elements (TEs) can regulate the expression of neighbouring genes. However, their ability to act in trans and influence ectopic loci has been reported rarely. We searched in rice transcriptomes for tissue-specific expression of TEs and found them to be regulated developmentally. They often shared sequence homology with co-expressed genes and contained potential microRNA-binding sites, which suggested possible contributions to gene regulation. In fact, we have identified a retrotransposon that is highly transcribed in roots and whose spliced transcript constitutes a target mimic for miR171. miR171 destabilizes mRNAs encoding the root-specific family of SCARECROW-Like transcription factors. We demonstrate that retrotransposon-derived transcripts act as decoys for miR171, triggering its degradation and thus results in the root-specific accumulation of SCARECROW-Like mRNAs. Such transposon-mediated post-transcriptional control of miR171 levels is conserved in diverse rice species.