Recent studies demonstrated that pattern formation in plants involves regulation of transcription factor families by microRNAs (miRNAs). To explore the potency, autonomy, target range, and functional conservation of miRNA genes, a systematic comparison between plants ectopically expressing pre-miRNAs and plants with corresponding multiple mutant combinations of target genes was performed. We show that regulated expression of several Arabidopsis thaliana pre-miRNA genes induced a range of phenotypic alterations, the most extreme ones being a phenocopy of combined loss of their predicted target genes. This result indicates quantitative regulation by miRNA as a potential source for diversity in developmental outcomes. Remarkably, custom-made, synthetic miRNAs vectored by endogenous pre-miRNA backbones also produced phenocopies of multiple mutant combinations of genes that are not naturally regulated by miRNA. Arabidopsis-based endogenous and synthetic pre-miRNAs were also processed effectively in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) and tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum). Synthetic miR-ARF targeting Auxin Response Factors 2, 3, and 4 induced dramatic transformations of abaxial tissues into adaxial ones in all three species, which could not cross graft joints. Likewise, organ-specific expression of miR165b that coregulates the PHABULOSA-like adaxial identity genes induced localized abaxial transformations. Thus, miRNAs provide a flexible, quantitative, and autonomous platform that can be employed for regulated expression of multiple related genes in diverse species.
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