Specific changes to non-coding RNA may be part of what makes us human
Human-specific variants of four microRNAs may have altered expression levels and gene targets compared to other great apes, according to a study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Alicia Gallego from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, Spain, and colleagues.
The authors found that changes in the sequence and length of four microRNAs may be specific to humans. Two were highly expressed in brain tissue and may exert effects on genes with neural functions, while two exhibit restricted expression patterns that the authors posited implied a role in development. The authors also found that "age" might matter; in an evolutionary sense, "younger" microRNAs had less sequence conservation, expression and disease association, and were more isolated than "older" microRNAs.
The authors suggest this study may aid in our understanding of how non-coding elements may have played a role in shaping some traits that ultimately became human-specific. They also hope that it provides a framework to study the possible impact of these changes on recent human evolution.
Source: Public Library of Science [May 09, 2016]