We compare the sets of experimentally validated long intergenic non-coding (linc)RNAs from human and mouse and apply a maximum likelihood approach to estimate the total number of lincRNA genes as well as the size of the conserved part of the lincRNome. Under the assumption that the sets of experimentally validated lincRNAs are random samples of the lincRNomes of the corresponding species, we estimate the total lincRNome size at approximately 40,000 to 50,000 species, at least twice the number of protein-coding genes. We further estimate that the fraction of the human and mouse euchromatic genomes encoding lincRNAs is more than twofold greater than the fraction of protein-coding sequences. Although the sequences of most lincRNAs are much less strongly conserved than protein sequences, the extent of orthology between the lincRNomes is unexpectedly high, with 60 to 70% of the lincRNA genes shared between human and mouse. The orthologous mammalian lincRNAs can be predicted to perform equivalent functions; accordingly, it appears likely that thousands of evolutionarily conserved functional roles of lincRNAs remain to be characterized.
Genome analysis of humans and other mammals reveals a surprisingly small number of protein-coding genes, only slightly over 20,000 (although the diversity of actual proteins is substantially augmented by alternative transcription and alternative splicing). Recent analysis of the mammalian genomes and transcriptomes, in particular, using the RNAseq technology, shows that, in addition to protein-coding genes, mammalian genomes encode many long non-coding RNAs. For some of these transcripts, various regulatory functions have been demonstrated, but on the whole the repertoire of long non-coding RNAs remains poorly characterized. We compared the identified long intergenic non-coding (linc)RNAs from human and mouse, and employed a specially developed statistical technique to estimate the size and evolutionary conservation of the human and mouse lincRNomes. The estimates show that there are at least twice as many human and mouse lincRNAs than there are protein-coding genes. Moreover, about two third of the lincRNA genes appear to be conserved between human and mouse, implying thousands of conserved but still uncharacterized functions.