Substantial loss of conserved and gain of novel MicroRNA families in flatworms

Mol Biol Evol. 2013 Dec;30(12):2619-28. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mst155. Epub 2013 Sep 11.


Recent studies on microRNA (miRNA) evolution focused mainly on the comparison of miRNA complements between animal clades. However, evolution of miRNAs within such groups is poorly explored despite the availability of comparable data that in some cases lack only a few key taxa. For flatworms (Platyhelminthes), miRNA complements are available for some free-living flatworms and all major parasitic lineages, except for the Monogenea. We present the miRNA complement of the monogenean flatworm Gyrodactylus salaris that facilitates a comprehensive analysis of miRNA evolution in Platyhelminthes. Using the newly designed bioinformatics pipeline miRCandRef, the miRNA complement was disentangled from next-generation sequencing of small RNAs and genomic DNA without a priori genome assembly. It consists of 39 miRNA hairpin loci of conserved miRNA families, and 22 novel miRNAs. A comparison with the miRNA complements of Schmidtea mediterranea (Turbellaria), Schistosoma japonicum (Trematoda), and Echinococcus granulosus (Cestoda) reveals a substantial loss of conserved bilaterian, protostomian, and lophotrochozoan miRNAs. Eight of the 46 expected conserved miRNAs were lost in all flatworms, 16 in Neodermata and 24 conserved miRNAs could not be detected in the cestode and the trematode. Such a gradual loss of miRNAs has not been reported before for other animal phyla. Currently, little is known about miRNAs in Platyhelminthes, and for the majority of the lost miRNAs there is no prediction of function. As suggested earlier they might be related to morphological simplifications. The presence and absence of 153 conserved miRNAs was compared for platyhelminths and 32 other metazoan taxa. Phylogenetic analyses support the monophyly of Platyhelminthes (Turbellaria + Neodermata [Monogenea {Trematoda + Cestoda}]).

Keywords: evolution; flatworms; microRNAs.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computational Biology
  • Conserved Sequence / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression
  • MicroRNAs / chemistry
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Multigene Family
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Phylogeny
  • Platyhelminths / classification*
  • Platyhelminths / genetics*
  • RNA, Helminth / chemistry
  • RNA, Helminth / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Helminth