Perspectives on microRNAs and phased small interfering RNAs in maize (Zea mays L.): Functions and big impact on agronomic traits enhancement

Zhanhui Zhang, Henan Agricultural University
Sachin Teotia, Michigan Technological University
Jihua Tang, Henan Agricultural University
Guiliang Tang, Michigan Technological University

© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license ( Publisher’s version of record:


Small RNA (sRNA) population in plants comprises of primarily micro RNAs (miRNAs) and small interfering RNAs (siRNAs). MiRNAs play important roles in plant growth and development. The miRNA-derived secondary siRNAs are usually known as phased siRNAs, including phasiRNAs and tasiRNAs. The miRNA and phased siRNA biogenesis mechanisms are highly conserved in plants. However, their functional conservation and diversification may differ in maize. In the past two decades, lots of miRNAs and phased siRNAs have been functionally identified for curbing important maize agronomic traits, such as those related to developmental timing, plant architecture, sex determination, reproductive development, leaf morphogenesis, root development and nutrition, kernel development and tolerance to abiotic stresses. In contrast to Arabidopsis and rice, studies on maize miRNA and phased siRNA biogenesis and functions are limited, which restricts the small RNA-based fundamental and applied studies in maize. This review updates the current status of maize miRNA and phased siRNA mechanisms and provides a survey of our knowledge on miRNA and phased siRNA functions in controlling agronomic traits. Furthermore, improvement of those traits through manipulating the expression of sRNAs or their targets is discussed.