Computational Prediction of MicroRNA Genes
The computational identification of novel microRNA (miRNA) genes is a challenging task in bioinformatics. Massive amounts of data describing unknown functional RNA transcripts have to be analyzed for putative miRNA candidates with automated computational pipelines. Beyond those miRNAs that meet the classical definition, high-throughput sequencing techniques have revealed additional miRNA-like molecules that are derived by alternative biogenesis pathways. Exhaustive bioinformatics analyses on such data involve statistical issues as well as precise sequence and structure inspection not only of the functional mature part but also of the whole precursor sequence of the putative miRNA. Apart from a considerable amount of species-specific miRNAs, the majority of all those genes are conserved at least among closely related organisms. Some miRNAs, however, can be traced back to very early points in the evolution of eukaryotic species. Thus, the investigation of the conservation of newly found miRNA candidates comprises an important step in the computational annotation of miRNAs.