Small RNA Activity in Archeological Barley Shows Novel Germination Inhibition in Response to Environment

Mol Biol Evol. 2017 Oct 1;34(10):2555-2562. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msx175.


The recovery of ancient RNA from archeological material could enable the direct study of microevolutionary processes. Small RNAs are a rich source of information because their small size is compatible with biomolecular preservation, and their roles in gene regulation make them likely foci of evolutionary change. We present here the small RNA fraction from a sample of archeological barley generated using high-throughput sequencing that has previously been associated with localized adaptation to drought. Its microRNA profile is broadly similar to 19 globally distributed modern barley samples with the exception of three microRNAs (miRNA159, miRNA319, and miR396), all of which are known to have variable expression under stress conditions. We also found retrotransposon activity to be significantly reduced in the archeological barley compared with the controls, where one would expect the opposite under stress conditions. We suggest that the archeological barley's conflicting stress signals could be the result of long-term adaptation to its local environment.

Keywords: adaptation; ancient RNA; miRNA.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA, Ancient
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant / genetics
  • Germination / genetics
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • History, Ancient
  • Hordeum / genetics*
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • RNA / analysis
  • RNA, Plant / genetics*
  • RNA, Plant / history
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA / methods
  • Stress, Physiological / genetics


  • DNA, Ancient
  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Plant
  • RNA