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1.  Modular, rule-based modeling for the design of eukaryotic synthetic gene circuits 
BMC Systems Biology  2013;7:42.
The modular design of synthetic gene circuits via composable parts (DNA segments) and pools of signal carriers (molecules such as RNA polymerases and ribosomes) has been successfully applied to bacterial systems. However, eukaryotic cells are becoming a preferential host for new synthetic biology applications. Therefore, an accurate description of the intricate network of reactions that take place inside eukaryotic parts and pools is necessary. Rule-based modeling approaches are increasingly used to obtain compact representations of reaction networks in biological systems. However, this approach is intrinsically non-modular and not suitable per se for the description of composable genetic modules. In contrast, the Model Description Language (MDL) adopted by the modeling tool ProMoT is highly modular and it enables a faithful representation of biological parts and pools.
We developed a computational framework for the design of complex (eukaryotic) gene circuits by generating dynamic models of parts and pools via the joint usage of the BioNetGen rule-based modeling approach and MDL. The framework converts the specification of a part (or pool) structure into rules that serve as inputs for BioNetGen to calculate the part’s species and reactions. The BioNetGen output is translated into an MDL file that gives a complete description of all the reactions that take place inside the part (or pool) together with a proper interface to connect it to other modules in the circuit. In proof-of-principle applications to eukaryotic Boolean circuits with more than ten genes and more than one thousand reactions, our framework yielded proper representations of the circuits’ truth tables.
For the model-based design of increasingly complex gene circuits, it is critical to achieve exact and systematic representations of the biological processes with minimal effort. Our computational framework provides such a detailed and intuitive way to design new and complex synthetic gene circuits.
PMCID: PMC3680069  PMID: 23705868
Composable parts; Pools of signal carriers; Gene circuit modular design; Rule-based modeling
2.  On the complexity of miRNA-mediated regulation in plants: novel insights into the genomic organization of plant miRNAs 
Biology Direct  2012;7:15.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are endogenous small non-coding RNAs of about 20–24 nt, known to play key roles in post-transcriptional gene regulation, that can be coded either by intergenic or intragenic loci. Intragenic (exonic and intronic) miRNAs can exert a role in the transcriptional regulation and RNA processing of their host gene. Moreover, the possibility that the biogenesis of exonic miRNAs could destabilize the corresponding protein-coding transcript and reduce protein synthesis makes their characterization very intriguing and suggests a possible novel mechanism of post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression.
This work was designed to carry out the computational identification of putative exonic miRNAs in 30 plant species and the analysis of possible mechanisms involved in their regulation.
The results obtained represent a useful starting point for future studies on the complex networks involved in microRNA-mediated gene regulation in plants.
PMCID: PMC3464803  PMID: 22569316
Gene regulation; Exonic miRNA; miRNA self regulation; Plants
3.  A Survey of MicroRNA Length Variants Contributing to miRNome Complexity in Peach (Prunus Persica L.) 
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short non-coding RNA molecules produced from hairpin structures and involved in gene expression regulation with major roles in plant development and stress response. Although each annotated miRNA in miRBase ( is a single defined sequence with no further details on possible variable sequence length, isomiRs – namely the population of variants of miRNAs coming from the same precursors – have been identified in several species and could represent a way of broadening the regulatory network of the cell. Next-gen-based sequencing makes it possible to comprehensively and accurately assess the entire miRNA repertoire including isomiRs. The aim of this work was to survey the complexity of the peach miRNome by carrying out Illumina high-throughput sequencing of miRNAs in three replicates of five biological samples arising from a set of different peach organs and/or phenological stages. Three hundred-ninety-two isomiRs (miRNA and miRNA*-related) corresponding to 26 putative miRNA coding loci, have been highlighted by mirDeep-P and analyzed. The presence of the same isomiRs in different biological replicates of a sample and in different tissues demonstrates that the generation of most of the detected isomiRs is not random. The degree of mature sequence heterogeneity is very different for each individual locus. Results obtained in the present work can thus contribute to a deeper view of the miRNome complexity and to better explore the mechanism of action of these tiny regulators.
PMCID: PMC3405489  PMID: 22855688
microRNA; isomiRs; next generation sequencing
4.  First Survey of the Wheat Chromosome 5A Composition through a Next Generation Sequencing Approach 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26421.
Wheat is one of the world's most important crops and is characterized by a large polyploid genome. One way to reduce genome complexity is to isolate single chromosomes using flow cytometry. Low coverage DNA sequencing can provide a snapshot of individual chromosomes, allowing a fast characterization of their main features and comparison with other genomes. We used massively parallel 454 pyrosequencing to obtain a 2x coverage of wheat chromosome 5A. The resulting sequence assembly was used to identify TEs, genes and miRNAs, as well as to infer a virtual gene order based on the synteny with other grass genomes. Repetitive elements account for more than 75% of the genome. Gene content was estimated considering non-redundant reads showing at least one match to ESTs or proteins. The results indicate that the coding fraction represents 1.08% and 1.3% of the short and long arm respectively, projecting the number of genes of the whole chromosome to approximately 5,000. 195 candidate miRNA precursors belonging to 16 miRNA families were identified. The 5A genes were used to search for syntenic relationships between grass genomes. The short arm is closely related to Brachypodium chromosome 4, sorghum chromosome 8 and rice chromosome 12; the long arm to regions of Brachypodium chromosomes 4 and 1, sorghum chromosomes 1 and 2 and rice chromosomes 9 and 3. From these similarities it was possible to infer the virtual gene order of 392 (5AS) and 1,480 (5AL) genes of chromosome 5A, which was compared to, and found to be largely congruent with the available physical map of this chromosome.
PMCID: PMC3196578  PMID: 22028874
5.  A computational-based update on microRNAs and their targets in barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:595.
Many plant species have been investigated in the last years for the identification and characterization of the corresponding miRNAs, nevertheless extensive studies are not yet available on barley (at the time of this writing). To extend and to update information on miRNAs and their targets in barley and to identify candidate polymorphisms at miRNA target sites, the features of previously known plant miRNAs have been used to systematically search for barley miRNA homologues and targets in the publicly available ESTs database. Matching sequences have then been related to Unigene clusters on which most of this study was based.
One hundred-fifty-six microRNA mature sequences belonging to 50 miRNA families have been found to significantly match at least one EST sequence in barley. As expected on the basis of phylogenetic relations, miRNAs putatively orthologous to those of Triticum are significantly over-represented inside the set of identified barley microRNA mature sequences. Many previously known and several putatively new miRNA/target pairs have been identified. When the predicted microRNA targets were grouped into functional categories, biological processes previously known to be regulated by miRNAs, such as development and response to biotic and abiotic stress, have been highlighted and most of the target molecular functions were related to transcription regulation. Candidate microRNA coding genes have been reported and genetic variation (SNPs/indels) both in functional regions of putative miRNAs (mature sequence) and at miRNA target sites has been found.
This study has provided an update of the information on barley miRNAs and their targets representing a foundation for future studies. Many of previously known plant microRNAs have homologues in barley with expected important roles during development, nutrient deprivation, biotic and abiotic stress response and other important physiological processes. Putative polymorphisms at miRNA target sites have been identified and they can represent an interesting source for the identification of functional genetic variability.
PMCID: PMC3091740  PMID: 20969764

Results 1-5 (5)