Two MicroRNAs are Sufficient for Embryonic Development

This one's very personal from my times in the Cochella lab at the IMP Vienna - My paper on the role of microRNAs in early embryonic development

How to engineer alternative microRNA biogenesis pathways to study development

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of post-transcriptional repressors with diverse roles in animal development and physiology. The Microprocessor complex, composed of Drosha and Pasha/DGCR8, is necessary for the biogenesis of all canonical miRNAs and essential for the early stages of animal embryogenesis. However, the cause for this requirement is largely unknown. Animals often express hundreds of miRNAs, and it remains unclear whether the Microprocessor is required to produce one or few essential miRNAs or many individually non-essential miRNAs. Additionally, both Drosha and Pasha/DGCR8 bind and cleave a variety of non-miRNA substrates [9–15], and it is unknown whether these activities account for the Microprocessor’s essential requirement.

To distinguish between these possibilities, we developed a system in C. elegans to stringently deplete embryos of Microprocessor activity. Using a combination of auxin-inducible degradation (AID) and RNA interference (RNAi), we achieved Drosha and Pasha/DGCR8 depletion starting in the maternal germline, resulting in Microprocessor and miRNA-depleted embryos, which fail to undergo morphogenesis or form organs. Using a Microprocessor-bypass strategy, we show that this early embryonic arrest is rescued by the addition of just two miRNAs, one miR-35 and one miR-51 family member, resulting in morphologically normal larvae. Thus, just two out of 150 canonical miRNAs are sufficient for morphogenesis and organogenesis, and the processing of these miRNAs accounts for the essential requirement for Drosha and Pasha/DGCR8 during the early stages of C. elegans embryonic development.

Curious about the details? Check out the paper