We sequenced 122 miRNAs in 10 primate species to reveal conservation characteristics of miRNA genes. Strong conservation is observed in stems of miRNA hairpins and increased variation in loop sequences. Interestingly, a striking drop in conservation was found for sequences immediately flanking the miRNA hairpins. This characteristic profile was employed to predict novel miRNAs using cross-species comparisons. Nine hundred and seventy-six candidate miRNAs were identified by scanning whole-genome human/mouse and human/rat alignments. Most of the novel candidates are conserved also in other vertebrates (dog, cow, chicken, opossum, zebrafish). Northern blot analysis confirmed the expression of mature miRNAs for 16 out of 69 representative candidates. Additional support for the expression of 179 novel candidates can be found in public databases, their presence in gene clusters, and literature that appeared after these predictions were made. Taken together, these results suggest the presence of significantly higher numbers of miRNAs in the human genome than previously estimated.