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Increasingly complex networks of small RNAs act through RNA-interference (RNAi) pathways to regulate gene expression, to mediate antiviral responses, to organize chromosomal domains, and to restrain the spread of selfish genetic elements. Historically, RNAi has been defined as a response to double-stranded RNA. However, some small RNA species may not arise from double-stranded RNA precursors. Yet, like microRNAs and small interfering RNAs, such species guide Argonaute proteins to silencing targets through complementary base-pairing. Silencing can be achieved by corecruitment of accessory factors or through the activity of Argonaute itself, which often has endonucleolytic activity. As a specific and adaptive regulatory system, RNAi is used throughout eukarya, which indicates a long evolutionary history. A likely function of RNAi throughout that history is to protect the genome from both pathogenic and parasitic invaders.