Role of microRNAs in plant responses to nutrient stress
Plants must acquire at least 14 mineral nutrients from the soil to complete their life cycles. Insufficient availability or extreme high levels of the nutrients significantly affect plant growth and development. Plants have evolved a series of mechanisms to adapt to unsuitable growth conditions where nutrient levels are too low or too high. microRNAs (miRNAs), a class of small RNAs, are known to mediate post-transcriptional regulation by transcript cleavage or translational inhibition. Besides regulating plant growth and development, miRNAs are well documented to regulate plant adaptation to adverse environmental conditions including nutrient stresses.
In this review, we focus on recent progress in our understanding of how miRNAs are involved in plant response to stresses resulting from deficiency in nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, copper and iron, as well as toxicities from heavy metal ions.
Accumulated evidence indicates that miRNAs play critical roles in sensing the abundance of nutrients, controlling nutrient uptake and phloem-mediated long-distance transport, and nutrient homeostasis. miRNAs act as systemic signals to coordinate these physiological activities helping plants respond to and survive nutrient stresses and toxicities. Knowledge about how miRNAs are involved in plant responses to nutrient stresses promise to provide novel strategies to develop crops with improved nutrient use efficiency which could be grown in soils with either excessive or insufficient availability of nutrients.
KeywordsmicroRNA Nutrient stress response Post-transcriptional regulation Nitrogen deficiency Phosphate starvation Sulfate limitation Copper depletion Iron deprivation Heavy metal stress
We apologize to the authors whose work is not cited here due to space limitation. We thank Professor Zhi Min Yang for his critical reading of the manuscript and valuable comments. Our current research is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation of China (31201679 and U1130304) and the Program of New Century Excellent Talent in Universities (NCET-11-0672).
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