The C. elegans heterochronic genes program stage-specific temporal identities in multiple tissues during larval development. These genes include the first two miRNA-encoding genes discovered, lin-4 and let-7. We show that lin-58 alleles, identified as lin-4 suppressors, define another miRNA that controls developmental time. These alleles are unique in that they contain point mutations in a gene regulatory element of mir-48, a let-7 family member. mir-48 is expressed prematurely in lin-58 mutants, whereas expression of mir-241, another let-7 family member residing immediately upstream of mir-48, appears to be unaffected. A mir-48 transgene bearing a lin-58 point mutation causes strong precocious phenotypes in the hypodermis and vulva when expressed from multicopy arrays. mir-48:gfp fusions reveal expression in these tissues, and inclusion of a lin-58 mutation causes precocious and enhanced gfp expression. These results suggest that lin-58 alleles disrupt a repressor binding site that restricts the time of miR-48 action in wild-type animals.
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We thank J. Simon and M. Titus for critical comments on the manuscript and members of the Twin Cities worm community for helpful discussions. We thank A. Abbott, V. Ambros, and their collaborators for insight and communication of results prior to publication. This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health to D.P.B. and A.E.R.