Background: Post-transcriptional regulation in eukaryotes can be operated through microRNA (miRNAs) mediated gene silencing. MiRNAs are small (18-25 nucleotides) non-coding RNAs that play crucial role in regulation of gene expression in eukaryotes. In insects, miRNAs have been shown to be involved in multiple mechanisms such as embryonic development, tissue differentiation, metamorphosis or circadian rhythm. Insect miRNAs have been identified in different species belonging to five orders: Coleoptera, Diptera, Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera and Orthoptera.
Results: We developed high throughput Solexa sequencing and bioinformatic analyses of the genome of the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum in order to identify the first miRNAs from a hemipteran insect. By combining these methods we identified 149 miRNAs including 55 conserved and 94 new miRNAs. Moreover, we investigated the regulation of these miRNAs in different alternative morphs of the pea aphid by analysing the expression of miRNAs across the switch of reproduction mode. Pea aphid microRNA sequences have been posted to miRBase: http://microrna.sanger.ac.uk/sequences/.
Conclusions: Our study has identified candidates as putative regulators involved in reproductive polyphenism in aphids and opens new avenues for further functional analyses.