Short tandem target mimic rice lines uncover functions of miRNAs in regulating important agronomic traits

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Improvements in plant agricultural productivity are urgently needed to reduce the dependency on limited natural resources and produce enough food for a growing world population. Human intervention over thousands of years has improved the yield of important crops; however, it is increasingly difficult to find new targets for genetic improvement. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are promising targets for crop improvement, but their inactivation is technically challenging and has hampered functional analyses. We have produced a large collection of transgenic short tandem target mimic (STTM) lines silencing 35 miRNA families in rice as a resource for functional studies and crop improvement. Visual assessment of field-grown miRNA-silenced lines uncovered alterations in many valuable agronomic traits, including plant height, tiller number, and grain number, that remained stable for up to five generations. We show that manipulation of miR398 can increase panicle length, grain number, and grain size in rice. In addition, we discovered additional agronomic functions for several known miRNAs, including miR172 and miR156. Our collection of STTM lines thus represents a valuable resource for functional analysis of rice miRNAs, as well as for agronomic improvement that can be readily transferred to other important food crops.

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America