The Fromm Lab

About the lab

Is there one driving force of animal evolution that explains the immense diversity of life and can it also help us to understand the exceptional success of parasitic species that affect us?

Featured research (7)

Soft-bodied cephalopods such as the octopus are exceptionally intelligent invertebrates with a highly complex nervous system that evolved independently from vertebrates. Because of elevated RNA editing in their nervous tissues, we hypothesized that RNA regulation may play a major role in the cognitive success of this group. We thus profiled mRNAs and small RNAs in 18 tissues of the common octopus. We show that the major RNA innovation of soft-bodied cephalopods is a massive expansion of the miRNA gene repertoire. These novel miRNAs were primarily expressed in neuronal tissues, during development, and had conserved and thus likely functional target sites. The only comparable miRNA expansions happened, strikingly, in vertebrates. Thus, we propose that miRNAs are intimately linked to the evolution of complex animal brains. One-Sentence Summary miRNAs are deeply linked to the emergence of complex brains.
Although microRNAs (miRNAs) contribute to all hallmarks of cancer, miRNA dysregulation in metastasis remains poorly understood. The aim of this work was to reliably identify miRNAs associated with metastatic progression of colorectal cancer (CRC) using novel and previously published next-generation sequencing (NGS) datasets generated from 268 samples of primary (pCRC) and metastatic CRC (mCRC; liver, lung and peritoneal metastases) and tumor adjacent tissues. Differential expression analysis was performed using a meticulous bioinformatics pipeline, including only bona fide miRNAs, and utilizing miRNA-tailored quality control and processing. Five miRNAs were identified as up-regulated at multiple metastatic sites Mir-210_3p, Mir-191_5p, Mir-8-P1b_3p [mir-141–3p], Mir-1307_5p and Mir-155_5p. Several have previously been implicated in metastasis through involvement in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and hypoxia, while other identified miRNAs represent novel findings. The use of a publicly available pipeline facilitates reproducibility and allows new datasets to be added as they become available. The set of miRNAs identified here provides a reliable starting-point for further research into the role of miRNAs in metastatic progression.
Whole genome duplications (WGDs) have long been considered the causal mechanism underlying dramatic increases to morphological complexity due to the neo-functionalization of paralogues generated during these events. Nonetheless, an alternative hypothesis suggests that behind the retention of most paralogues is not neo-functionalization, but instead the degree of the inter-connectivity of the intended gene product, as well as the mode of the WGD itself. Here, we explore both the causes and consequences of WGD by examining the distribution, expression, and molecular evolution of microRNAs (miRNAs) in both gnathostome vertebrates as well as chelicerate arthropods. We find that although the number of miRNA paralogues tracks the number of WGDs experienced within the lineage, few of these paralogues experienced changes to the seed sequence, and thus are functionally equivalent relative to their mRNA targets. Nonetheless, in gnathostomes, although the retention of paralogues following the 1R autotetraploidization event is similar across the two sub-genomes, the paralogues generated by the gnathostome 2R allotetraploidization event are retained in higher numbers on one sub-genome relative to the second, with the miRNAs found on the preferred sub-genome showing both higher expression of mature miRNA transcripts and slower molecular evolution of the precursor miRNA sequences. Importantly, WGDs do not result in the creation of miRNA novelty, nor do WGDs correlate to increases in complexity. Instead, it is the number of miRNA seed sequences in the genome itself that not only better correlate to instances in complexification, but also mechanistically explain why complexity increases when new miRNA families are established.
We describe an update of MirGeneDB, the manually curated microRNA gene database. Adhering to uniform and consistent criteria for microRNA annotation and nomenclature, we substantially expanded MirGeneDB with 30 additional species representing previously missing metazoan phyla such as sponges, jellyfish, rotifers and flatworms. MirGeneDB 2.1 now consists of 75 species spanning over ∼800 million years of animal evolution, and contains a total number of 16 670 microRNAs from 1549 families. Over 6000 microRNAs were added in this update using ∼550 datasets with ∼7.5 billion sequencing reads. By adding new phylogenetically important species, especially those relevant for the study of whole genome duplication events, and through updating evolutionary nodes of origin for many families and genes, we were able to substantially refine our nomenclature system. All changes are traceable in the specifically developed MirGeneDB version tracker. The performance of read-pages is improved and microRNA expression matrices for all tissues and species are now also downloadable. Altogether, this update represents a significant step toward a complete sampling of all major metazoan phyla, and a widely needed foundation for comparative microRNA genomics and transcriptomics studies. MirGeneDB 2.1 is part of RNAcentral and Elixir Norway, publicly and freely available at
Previous large-scale studies have uncovered many features that determine the processing of microRNA (miRNA) precursors; however, they have been conducted in vitro. Here, we introduce MapToCleave, a method to simultaneously profile processing of thousands of distinct RNA structures in living cells. We find that miRNA precursors with a stable lower basal stem are more efficiently processed and also have higher expression in vivo in tissues from 20 animal species. We systematically compare the importance of known and novel sequence and structural features and test biogenesis of miRNA precursors from 10 animal and plant species in human cells. Lastly, we provide evidence that the GHG motif better predicts processing when defined as a structure rather than sequence motif, consistent with recent cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) studies. In summary, we apply a screening assay in living cells to reveal the importance of lower basal stem stability for miRNA processing and in vivo expression.

Lab head

Bastian Fromm
  • The Arctic University Museum of Norway
About Bastian Fromm
  • The center of my research is the evolution of animal complexity and microRNAs, which are short, non-coding gene-regulators. I am a Zoologist by training and use next generation sequencing and bioinformatics methods for genome wide microRNA complement analyses of recent and ancient samples. Results of my analyses are frequently released in our database

Members (1)

Vanessa Molin Paynter
  • UiT The Arctic University of Norway
  • Not confirmed yet