piRNA biology and germline genome stability

piRNA biology and germline genome stability

piRNA biology and germline genome stability

piRNAs are animal-specific small RNAs usually restricted to the germline and required for fertility. In the absence of piRNAs, the genomic integrity of the germline is compromised and consequently piRNAs have been called “guardians of the genome”. One major function of piRNAs in all animals is to silence transposable (mobile) elements thereby preventing them from inducing detrimental mutations that are transmitted to the offspring.

In 2008, the Miska lab identified the piRNAs of Caenorhabditis elegans and demonstrated that Piwi proteins and piRNAs are important for germline development and fertility in the nematode. Subsequently, we identified the targets of piRNAs and shed light on the molecular mechanism of target silencing. In addition, we have been investigating how piRNAs are generated in the germline, how the piRNA pathway responds to foreign DNA/RNA and how the pathway is evolving.

Making use of our expertise in small RNAs in C. elegans, we are now focussing our research on elucidating the biological and molecular functions of piRNAs in vertebrates, especially in mammals.


We are interested in all aspects of gene regulation by non-coding RNA. Current research themes include: miRNA biology and pathology, miRNA mechanism, piRNA biology and the germline, endo-siRNAs in epigenetic inheritance and evironmental conditioning, small RNA evolution and the role of RNAi in host pathogen interaction.


  • Ancient and novel small RNA pathways compensate for the loss of piRNAs in multiple independent nematode lineages.

    Sarkies P, Selkirk ME, Jones JT, Blok V, Boothby T et al.

    PLoS biology 2015;13;2;e1002061

  • Reduced insulin/IGF-1 signaling restores germ cell immortality to Caenorhabditis elegans Piwi mutants.

    Simon M, Sarkies P, Ikegami K, Doebley AL, Goldstein LD et al.

    Cell reports 2014;7;3;762-73

  • PRDE-1 is a nuclear factor essential for the biogenesis of Ruby motif-dependent piRNAs in C. elegans.

    Weick EM, Sarkies P, Silva N, Chen RA, Moss SM et al.

    Genes & development 2014;28;7;783-96

  • Function, targets, and evolution of Caenorhabditis elegans piRNAs.

    Bagijn MP, Goldstein LD, Sapetschnig A, Weick EM, Bouasker S et al.

    Science (New York, N.Y.) 2012;337;6094;574-578

  • Piwi and piRNAs act upstream of an endogenous siRNA pathway to suppress Tc3 transposon mobility in the Caenorhabditis elegans germline.

    Das PP, Bagijn MP, Goldstein LD, Woolford JR, Lehrbach NJ et al.

    Molecular cell 2008;31;1;79-90