Selection against maternal microRNA target sites in maternal transcripts
In animals, before the zygotic genome is expressed, the egg already contains gene products deposited by the mother. These maternal products are crucial during the initial steps of development. In Drosophila melanogaster a large number of maternal products are found in the oocyte, some of which are indispensable. Many of these products are RNA molecules, such as gene transcripts and ribosomal RNAs. Recently, microRNAs ? small RNA gene regulators ? have been detected early during development and are important in these initial steps. The presence of some microRNAs in unfertilized eggs has been reported, but whether they have a functional impact in the egg or early embryo has not being explored. I have extracted and sequenced small RNAs from Drosophila unfertilized eggs. The unfertilized egg is rich in small RNAs and contains multiple microRNA products. Maternal microRNAs are often encoded within the intron of maternal genes, suggesting that many maternal microRNAs are the product of transcriptional hitch-hiking. Comparative genomics analyses suggest that maternal transcripts tend to avoid target sites for maternal microRNAs. I also developed a microRNA target mutation model to study the functional impact of polymorphisms at microRNA target sites. The analysis of Drosophila populations suggests that there is selection against maternal microRNA target sites in maternal transcripts. A potential role of the maternal microRNA mir-9c in maternal-to-zygotic transition is also discussed. In conclusion, maternal microRNAs in Drosophila have a functional impact in maternal protein-coding transcripts.