We performed a genetic analysis of sRNA abundance in flag leaf from an immortalized F2 (IMF2) population in rice. We identified 53,613,739 unique sRNAs and 165,797 sRNA expression traits (s-traits). A total of 66,649 s-traits mapped 40,049 local-sQTLs and 30,809 distant-sQTLs. By defining 80,362 sRNA clusters, 22,263 sRNA cluster QTLs (scQTLs) were recovered for 20,249 of all the 50,139 sRNA cluster expression traits (sc-traits). The expression levels for most of s-traits from the same genes or the same sRNA clusters were slightly positively correlated. While genetic co-regulation between sRNAs from the same mother genes and between sRNAs and their mother genes was observed for a portion of the sRNAs, most of the sRNAs and their mother genes showed little co-regulation. Some sRNA biogenesis genes were located in distant-sQTL hotspots and showed correspondence with specific length classes of sRNAs suggesting their important roles in the regulation and biogenesis of the sRNAs.
Genes within the DNA of a plant or animal contain instructions to make molecules called RNAs. Some RNA molecules can be decoded to make proteins, whereas others have different roles. A single gene often contains the instructions to make both protein-coding RNAs and non-coding RNAs.
Molecules called small RNAs (or sRNAs) do not code for proteins. Instead, sRNAs can control protein-coding RNA molecules or chemically alter the DNA itself; this allows them to perform many different roles in living organisms. In plants, for example, these molecules affect how the plant grows, the shapes and structures it forms, and how likely it is to survive challenges such as drought and diseases. Often different plants of the same species have different amounts of sRNAs, but the reasons for this remain unclear.
Now, Wang, Yao et al. have made use of a technique called ‘expression quantitative locus’ analysis to look at how sRNAs in rice plants are controlled by additional information encoded within DNA. The analysis identified over 53 million sRNA molecules from a population of rice plants. Many of these sRNAs varied in their abundance between different plants within the population. Wang, Yao et al. also found many thousands of individual instructions within the DNA of the rice that can either increase or reduce the abundance of their associated sRNA.
Some of the abundant sRNAs were influenced by instructions within their own genes; some were influenced by instructions from other genes; and some were influenced by both. Wang, Yao et al. also found that the control of protein-coding RNAs was not necessarily related to the control of sRNAs encoded by the same gene. Further work is now needed to identify which specific DNA sequences regulate the abundance of sRNA molecules in plants and other organisms.