Background: MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small 20-25 nucleotide non-protein-coding RNAs that negatively regulate expression of genes in many organisms, ranging from plants to humans. The MIR164 family of miRNAs in Arabidopsis consists of three members that share sequence complementarity to transcripts of NAC family transcription factors, including CUP-SHAPED COTYLEDON1 (CUC1) and CUC2. CUC1 and CUC2 are redundantly required for the formation of boundaries between organ primordia. The analysis of transgenic plants that either overexpress miR164a or miR164b or express a miRNA-resistant version of CUC1 or CUC2 has shown that miRNA regulation of CUC1 and CUC2 is necessary for normal flower development. A loss-of-function allele of MIR164b did not result in a mutant phenotype, possibly because of functional redundancy among the three members of the MIR164 family.
Results: In this study, we describe the characterization of the early extra petals1 (eep1) Arabidopsis mutant, whose predominant phenotype is the formation of extra petals in early-arising flowers. We demonstrate that eep1 is a loss-of-function allele of MIR164c, one of three known members of the MIR164 family. Our analyses of miR164c function and eep1 mir164b double mutants reveal that miR164c controls petal number in a nonredundant manner by regulating the transcript accumulation of the transcription factors CUC1 and CUC2.
Conclusions: The data presented in this study indicate that closely related miRNA family members that are predicted to target the same set of genes can have different functions during development, possibly because of nonoverlapping expression patterns.