One of the most interesting challenges facing paleobiologists is explaining the Cambrian explosion, the dramatic appearance of most metazoan animal phyla in the Early Cambrian, and the subsequent stability of these body plans over the ensuing 530 million years. We propose that because phenotypic variation decreases through geologic time, because microRNAs (miRNAs) increase genic precision, by turning an imprecise number of mRNA transcripts into a more precise number of protein molecules, and because miRNAs are continuously being added to metazoan genomes through geologic time, miRNAs might be instrumental in the canalization of development. Further, miRNAs ultimately allow for natural selection to elaborate morphological complexity, because by reducing gene expression variability, miRNAs increase heritability, allowing selection to change characters more effectively. Hence, miRNAs might play an important role in shaping metazoan macroevolution, and might be part of the solution to the Cambrian conundrum.
Dietrich, Michael; McPeek, Mark; and Peterson, Kevin J., "MicroRNAs and metazoan macroevolution: insights into canalization, complexity, and the Cambrian explosion" (2009). Open Dartmouth: Faculty Open Access Articles. 11.