MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small RNAs (sRNAs) that repress gene expression via high complementary binding sites in target mRNAs (messenger RNAs). Many miRNAs are ancient, and their intricate integration into gene expression programs have been fundamental for plant life, controlling developmental programs and executing responses to biotic/abiotic cues. Additionally, there are many less conserved miRNAs in each plant species, raising the possibility that the functional impact of miRNAs extends into virtually every aspect of plant biology. This Special Issue of Plants presents papers that investigate the function and mechanism of miRNAs in controlling development and abiotic stress response. This includes how miRNAs adapt plants to nutrient availability, and the silencing machinery that is responsible for this. Several papers profile changes in miRNA abundances during stress, and another study raises the possibility of circular RNAs acting as endogenous decoys to sequester and inhibit plant miRNA function. These papers act as foundational studies for the more difficult task ahead of determining the functional significance of these changes to miRNA abundances, or the presence of these circular RNAs. Finally, how miRNAs trigger the production of secondary sRNAs is reviewed, along with the potential agricultural impact of miRNAs and these secondary sRNA in the exemplar crop maize.
Keywords: abiotic stress; circular RNAs; development; miRNAs; nutrient availability; phasiRNA; tasiRNA.