On December 5, 2012, Brown-MBL Graduate Student, Anupriya Dutta, successfully defended her PhD dissertation, ‘Recognizing microRNAs (miRNAs) in Microinvertebrates and Confirming their Absence.’
Bdelloid rotifers are aquatic microinvertebrates that have several outstanding qualities among metazoans. They make up the only ancient asexual animal lineage. Bdelloid rotifers are also incredibly robust to DNA damage, which is a necessary adaptation for life in desiccation-prone environments. During desiccation, they are capable of incorporating foreign DNA into their genome. An investigation of a class of noncoding small RNAs, called microRNAs (miRNAs), reveals that the unique characteristics of bdelloid rotifers are reflected in their miRNA repertoire. miRNAs are involved in post-transcriptional gene regulation and have been implicated in numerous cellular processes. Some miRNAs are believed to be indispensable due to their integration into many gene regulatory networks. For this reason, many miRNAs are easy to identify across diverse animal phyla. However, the conserved miRNA repertoire of bdelloid rotifers is exceptional in this regard. The surprising miRNA repertoire of bdelloid rotifers not only provides important clues to understanding the asexual evolution of bdelloid rotifers, but also reveals new insights into miRNA evolution in animals.