Background: Red-flesh fruit is absent from common sweet orange varieties, but is more preferred by consumers due to its visual attraction and nutritional properties. Our previous researches on a spontaneous red-flesh mutant revealed that the trait is caused by lycopene accumulation and is regulated by both transcriptional and post-transcriptional mechanisms. However, the knowledge on post-transcriptional regulation of lycopene accumulation in fruits is rather limited so far.
Results: We used Illumina sequencing method to identify and quantitatively profile small RNAs on the red-flesh sweet orange mutant and its wild type. We identified 85 known miRNAs belonging to 48 families from sweet orange. Comparative profiling revealed that 51 known miRNAs exhibited significant expression differences between mutant (MT) and wild type (WT). We also identified 12 novel miRNAs by the presence of mature miRNAs and corresponding miRNA*s in the sRNA libraries. Comparative analysis showed that 9 novel miRNAs are differentially expressed between WT and MT. Target predictions of the 60 differential miRNAs resulted 418 target genes in sweet orange. GO and KEGG annotation revealed that high ranked miRNA-target genes are those implicated in transcription regulation, protein modification and photosynthesis. The expression profiles of target genes involved in carotenogenesis and photosynthesis were further confirmed to be complementary to the profiles of corresponding miRNAs in WT and MT.
Conclusion: This study comparatively characterized the miRNAomes between the red-flesh mutant and the wild type, the results lay a foundation for unraveling the miRNA-mediated molecular processes that regulate lycopene accumulation in the sweet orange red-flesh mutant.