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MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short, non-coding RNAs that modulate the translation-rate of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) by directing the RNA-induced silencing complex to sequence-specific targets. In plants, this typically results in cleavage and subsequent degradation of the mRNA. Degradome sequencing is a high-throughput technique developed to capture cleaved mRNA fragments and thus can be used to support miRNA target prediction. The current criteria used for miRNA target prediction were inferred on a limited number of experimentally validated A. thaliana interactions and were adapted to fit these specific interactions; thus, these fixed criteria may not be optimal across all datasets (organisms, tissues or treatments). We present a new tool, PAREameters, for inferring targeting criteria from small RNA and degradome sequencing datasets. We evaluate its performance using a more extensive set of experimentally validated interactions in multiple A. thaliana datasets. We also perform comprehensive analyses to highlight and quantify the differences between subsets of miRNA–mRNA interactions in model and non-model organisms. Our results show increased sensitivity in A. thaliana when using the PAREameters inferred criteria and that using data-driven criteria enables the identification of additional interactions that further our understanding of the RNA silencing pathway in both model and non-model organisms.
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