A large set of endogenous small RNAs of predominantly 21 to 24 nucleotides was identified in Arabidopsis. These small RNAs resembled micro-RNAs from animals and were similar in size to small interfering RNAs that accumulated during RNA silencing triggered by multiple types of inducers. Among the 125 sequences identified, the vast majority (90%) arose from intergenic regions, although small RNAs corresponding to predicted protein-coding genes, transposon-like sequences, and a structural RNA gene also were identified. Evidence consistent with the derivation of small RNAs of both polarities, and from highly base-paired precursors, was obtained through the identification and analysis of clusters of small RNA loci. The accumulation of specific small RNAs was regulated developmentally. We propose that Arabidopsis small RNAs participate in a wide range of post-transcriptional and epigenetic events.
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