MicroRNA precursors are not structurally robust but plastic.
Robustness is considered a ubiquitous property of living systems at all levels of organization, and small noncoding RNA (sncRNA) is a genuine model for its study at the molecular level. In this communication, we question whether microRNA precursors (pre-miRNAs) are actually structurally robust, as previously suggested. We found that natural pre-miRNAs are not more robust than expected under an appropriate null model. On the contrary, we found that eukaryotic pre-miRNAs show a significant enrichment in conformational flexibility at the thermal equilibrium of the molecule, that is, in their plasticity. Our results further support the selection for functional diversification and evolvability in sncRNAs.