Plant microRNAs (miRNAs) are single-stranded 20-22 nt small RNAs (sRNA) that are produced from their own genes. We have developed a de novo genome-wide approach for the computational identification of novel plant miRNAs based on the integration of the complete genome sequence with sRNA libraries. It comprises three modules - the clustering module identifies genomic regions that have two closely-located unidirectional sRNA clusters, the mirplan module explores the secondary structure of the genomic regions, and the duplex module predicts miRNA/miRNA* duplexes. We applied our approach to the Brachypodium genome and publicly available sRNA libraries and predicted 102 miRNAs. Our results extend the list of known miRNAs with 58 novel miRNAs and define the genomic loci of all predicted miRNAs. Because this approach considers specific features of plant miRNAs, it can be employed for the analysis of the genome and sRNA libraries generated for plant species to achieve systematic miRNA discovery.
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