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  1. Plant cells accumulate small RNA molecules that regulate plant development, genome stability, and environmental responses. These small RNAs fall into three major classes based on their function and mechanisms of biogenesis—microRNAs, heterochromatic small interfering RNAs, and secondary small interfering RNAs—plus several other less well-characterized categories. Biogenesis of each small RNA class requires a pathway of factors, some specific to each pathway and others involved in multiple pathways. Diverse sequenced plant genomes, along with rapid developments in sequencing, imaging, and genetic transformation techniques, have enabled significant progress in understanding the biogenesis, functions, and evolution of plant small RNAs, including those that had been poorly characterized because they were absent or had low representation in Arabidopsis ( Arabidopsis thaliana). Here, we review recent findings about plant small RNAs and discuss our current understanding of their biogenesis mechanisms, targets, modes of action, mobility, and functions in Arabidopsis and other plant species, including economically important crops. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Plant Biology, Volume 74 is May 2023. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates. 
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  2. Abstract

    Several protein families participate in the biogenesis and function of small RNAs (sRNAs) in plants. Those with primary roles include Dicer-like (DCL), RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RDR), and Argonaute (AGO) proteins. Protein families such as double-stranded RNA-binding (DRB), SERRATE (SE), and SUPPRESSION OF SILENCING 3 (SGS3) act as partners of DCL or RDR proteins. Here, we present curated annotations and phylogenetic analyses of seven sRNA pathway protein families performed on 196 species in the Viridiplantae (aka green plants) lineage. Our results suggest that the RDR3 proteins emerged earlier than RDR1/2/6. RDR6 is found in filamentous green algae and all land plants, suggesting that the evolution of RDR6 proteins coincides with the evolution of phased small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). We traced the origin of the 24-nt reproductive phased siRNA-associated DCL5 protein back to the American sweet flag (Acorus americanus), the earliest diverged, extant monocot species. Our analyses of AGOs identified multiple duplication events of AGO genes that were lost, retained, or further duplicated in subgroups, indicating that the evolution of AGOs is complex in monocots. The results also refine the evolution of several clades of AGO proteins, such as AGO4, AGO6, AGO17, and AGO18. Analyses of nuclear localization signal sequences and catalytic triads of AGO proteins shed light on the regulatory roles of diverse AGOs. Collectively, this work generates a curated and evolutionarily coherent annotation for gene families involved in plant sRNA biogenesis/function and provides insights into the evolution of major sRNA pathways.

     
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  3. Abstract Plant microRNAs (miRNAs) are short, noncoding RNA molecules that restrict gene expression via posttranscriptional regulation and function in several essential pathways, including development, growth, and stress responses. Accurately identifying miRNAs in populations of small RNA sequencing libraries is a computationally intensive process that has resulted in the misidentification of inaccurately annotated miRNA sequences. In recent years, criteria for miRNA annotation have been refined with the aim to reduce these misannotations. Here, we describe miRador, a miRNA identification tool that utilizes the most up-to-date, community-established criteria for accurate identification of miRNAs in plants. We combined target prediction and Parallel Analysis of RNA Ends (PARE) data to assess the precision of the miRNAs identified by miRador. We compared miRador to other commonly used miRNA prediction tools and found that miRador is at least as precise as other prediction tools while being substantially faster than other tools. miRador should be broadly useful for the plant community to identify and annotate miRNAs in plant genomes. 
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  4. Abstract The spatiotemporal development of somatic tissues of the anther lobe is necessary for successful fertile pollen production. This process is mediated by many transcription factors acting through complex, multi-layered networks. Here, our analysis of functional knockout mutants of interacting basic helix–loop–helix genes Ms23, Ms32, basic helix–loop–helix 122 (bHLH122), and bHLH51 in maize (Zea mays) established that male fertility requires all four genes, expressed sequentially in the tapetum (TP). Not only do they regulate each other, but also they encode proteins that form heterodimers that act collaboratively to guide many cellular processes at specific developmental stages. MS23 is confirmed to be the master factor, as the ms23 mutant showed the earliest developmental defect, cytologically visible in the TP, with the most drastic alterations in premeiotic gene expression observed in ms23 anthers. Notably, the male-sterile ms23, ms32, and bhlh122-1 mutants lack 24-nt phased secondary small interfering RNAs (phasiRNAs) and the precursor transcripts from the corresponding 24-PHAS loci, while the bhlh51-1 mutant has wild-type levels of both precursors and small RNA products. Multiple lines of evidence suggest that 24-nt phasiRNA biogenesis primarily occurs downstream of MS23 and MS32, both of which directly activate Dcl5 and are required for most 24-PHAS transcription, with bHLH122 playing a distinct role in 24-PHAS transcription. 
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  5. Abstract Previously, we have shown that apoplastic wash fluid (AWF) purified from Arabidopsis leaves contains small RNAs (sRNAs). To investigate whether these sRNAs are encapsulated inside extracellular vesicles (EVs), we treated EVs isolated from Arabidopsis leaves with the protease trypsin and RNase A, which should degrade RNAs located outside EVs but not those located inside. These analyses revealed that apoplastic RNAs are mostly located outside and are associated with proteins. Further analyses of these extracellular RNAs (exRNAs) revealed that they include both sRNAs and long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs), including circular RNAs (circRNAs). We also found that exRNAs are highly enriched in the posttranscriptional modification N6-methyladenine (m6A). Consistent with this, we identified a putative m6A-binding protein in AWF, GLYCINE-RICH RNA-BINDING PROTEIN 7 (GRP7), as well as the sRNA-binding protein ARGONAUTE2 (AGO2). These two proteins coimmunoprecipitated with lncRNAs, including circRNAs. Mutation of GRP7 or AGO2 caused changes in both the sRNA and lncRNA content of AWF, suggesting that these proteins contribute to the secretion and/or stabilization of exRNAs. We propose that exRNAs located outside of EVs mediate host-induced gene silencing, rather than RNA located inside EVs. 
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  6. Abstract Plant cells communicate information for the regulation of development and responses to external stresses. A key form of this communication is transcriptional regulation, accomplished via complex gene networks operating both locally and systemically. To fully understand how genes are regulated across plant tissues and organs, high resolution, multi-dimensional spatial transcriptional data must be acquired and placed within a cellular and organismal context. Spatial transcriptomics (ST) typically provides a two-dimensional spatial analysis of gene expression of tissue sections that can be stacked to render three-dimensional data. For example, X-ray and light-sheet microscopy provide sub-micron scale volumetric imaging of cellular morphology of tissues, organs, or potentially entire organisms. Linking these technologies could substantially advance transcriptomics in plant biology and other fields. Here, we review advances in ST and 3D microscopy approaches and describe how these technologies could be combined to provide high resolution, spatially organized plant tissue transcript mapping. 
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  7. In this work, we sequenced and annotated the genome of Streptochaeta angustifolia , one of two genera in the grass subfamily Anomochlooideae, a lineage sister to all other grasses. The final assembly size is over 99% of the estimated genome size. We find good collinearity with the rice genome and have captured most of the gene space. Streptochaeta is similar to other grasses in the structure of its fruit (a caryopsis or grain) but has peculiar flowers and inflorescences that are distinct from those in the outgroups and in other grasses. To provide tools for investigations of floral structure, we analyzed two large families of transcription factors, AP2-like and R2R3 MYBs, that are known to control floral and spikelet development in rice and maize among other grasses. Many of these are also regulated by small RNAs. Structure of the gene trees showed that the well documented whole genome duplication at the origin of the grasses (ρ) occurred before the divergence of the Anomochlooideae lineage from the lineage leading to the rest of the grasses (the spikelet clade) and thus that the common ancestor of all grasses probably had two copies of the developmental genes. However, Streptochaeta (and by inference other members of Anomochlooideae) has lost one copy of many genes. The peculiar floral morphology of Streptochaeta may thus have derived from an ancestral plant that was morphologically similar to the spikelet-bearing grasses. We further identify 114 loci producing microRNAs and 89 loci generating phased, secondary siRNAs, classes of small RNAs known to be influential in transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation of several plant functions. 
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  8. Abstract The Solanaceae or “nightshade” family is an economically important group with remarkable diversity. To gain a better understanding of how the unique biology of the Solanaceae relates to the family’s small RNA (sRNA) genomic landscape, we downloaded over 255 publicly available sRNA data sets that comprise over 2.6 billion reads of sequence data. We applied a suite of computational tools to predict and annotate two major sRNA classes: (1) microRNAs (miRNAs), typically 20- to 22-nucleotide (nt) RNAs generated from a hairpin precursor and functioning in gene silencing and (2) short interfering RNAs (siRNAs), including 24-nt heterochromatic siRNAs typically functioning to repress repetitive regions of the genome via RNA-directed DNA methylation, as well as secondary phased siRNAs and trans-acting siRNAs generated via miRNA-directed cleavage of a polymerase II-derived RNA precursor. Our analyses described thousands of sRNA loci, including poorly understood clusters of 22-nt siRNAs that accumulate during viral infection. The birth, death, expansion, and contraction of these sRNA loci are dynamic evolutionary processes that characterize the Solanaceae family. These analyses indicate that individuals within the same genus share similar sRNA landscapes, whereas comparisons between distinct genera within the Solanaceae reveal relatively few commonalities. 
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