Genetic information is traditionally thought to be transferred from parents to offspring. However, there is evidence indicating that gene transfer can also occur from microbes to higher species, such as plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates. This horizontal transfer can be carried out by small RNAs (sRNAs). sRNAs have been recently reported to move across kingdoms as mobile signals, spreading silencing information toward targeted genes. sRNAs, especially microRNAs (miRNAs) and small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), are non-coding molecules that control gene expression at the transcriptional or post-transcriptional level. Some sRNAs act in a cross-kingdom manner between animals and their parasites, but little is known about such sRNAs associated with plants. In this report, we provide a brief introduction to miRNAs that are transferred from plants to mammals/viruses and siRNAs that are transferred from microbes to plants. Both miRNAs and siRNAs can exert corresponding functions in the target organisms. Additionally, we provide information concerning a host-induced gene silencing system as a potential application that utilizes the transgenic trafficking of RNA molecules to silence the genes of interacting organisms. Moreover, we lay out the controversial views regarding cross-kingdom miRNAs and call for better methodology and experimental design to confirm this unique function of miRNAs.
Via Jean-Michel Ané