The role of microRNAs in responses to drought and heat stress in peanut (Arachis hypogaea)
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are 21–24 nt small RNAs (sRNAs) that negatively regulate protein-coding genes and/or trigger phased small-interfering RNA (phasiRNA) production. Two thousand nine hundred miRNA families, of which ∼40 are deeply conserved, have been identified in ∼80 different plant species genomes. miRNA functions in response to abiotic stresses is less understood than their roles in development. Only seven peanut MIRNA families are documented in miRBase, yet a reference genome assembly is now published and over 480 plant-like MIRNA loci were predicted in the diploid peanut progenitor Arachis duranensis genome. We explored by computational analysis of a leaf sRNA library and publicly available sRNA, degradome, and transcriptome datasets the miRNA and phasiRNA space associated with drought and heat stresses in peanut. We characterized 33 novel candidate and 33 ancient conserved families of MIRNAs and present degradome evidence for their cleavage activities on mRNA targets, including several noncanonical targets and novel phasiRNA-producing noncoding and mRNA loci with validated novel targets such as miR1509 targeting serine/threonine-protein phosphatase7 and miRc20 and ahy-miR3514 targeting penta-tricopeptide repeats (PPRs), in contradistinction to other claims of miR1509/173/7122 superfamily miRNAs indirectly targeting PPRs via TAS-like noncoding RNA loci. We characterized the inverse correlations of significantly differentially expressed drought- and heat-regulated miRNAs, assayed by sRNA blots or transcriptome datasets, with target mRNA expressions in the same datasets. Meta-analysis of an expression atlas and over representation of miRNA target genes in co-expression networks suggest that miRNAs have functions in unique aspects of peanut gynophore development. Genome-wide MIRNA annotation of the published allopolyploid peanut genome can facilitate molecular breeding of value-added traits.