© 2018 Zhao et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. In recent years, an increasing number of studies have reported the presence of plant miRNAs in human samples, which resulted in a hypothesis asserting the existence of plant-derived exogenous microRNA (xenomiR). However, this hypothesis is not widely accepted in the scientific community due to possible sample contamination and the small sample size with lack of rigorous statistical analysis. This study provides a systematic statistical test that can validate (or invalidate) the plant-derived xenomiR hypothesis by analyzing 388 small RNA sequencing data from human samples in 11 types of body fluids/tissues. A total of 166 types of plant miRNAs were found in at least one human sample, of which 14 plant miRNAs represented more than 80% of the total plant miRNAs abundance in human samples. Plant miRNA profiles were characterized to be tissue-specific in different human samples. Meanwhile, the plant miRNAs identified from microbiome have an insignificant abundance compared to those from humans, while plant miRNA profiles in human samples were significantly different from those in plants, suggesting that sample contamination is an unlikely reason for all the plant miRNAs detected in human samples. This study also provides a set of testable synthetic miRNAs with isotopes that can be detected in situ after being fed to animals.
Zhao, Q., Liu, Y., Zhang, N., Hu, M., Zhang, H., Joshi, T., & Xu, D. (2018). Evidence for plant-derived xenomiRs based on a large-scale analysis of public small RNA sequencing data from human samples. PLoS ONE, 13(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187519