The Epigenomic Landscape of Prokaryotes

PLoS Genet. 2016 Feb 12;12(2):e1005854. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1005854. eCollection 2016 Feb.


DNA methylation acts in concert with restriction enzymes to protect the integrity of prokaryotic genomes. Studies in a limited number of organisms suggest that methylation also contributes to prokaryotic genome regulation, but the prevalence and properties of such non-restriction-associated methylation systems remain poorly understood. Here, we used single molecule, real-time sequencing to map DNA modifications including m6A, m4C, and m5C across the genomes of 230 diverse bacterial and archaeal species. We observed DNA methylation in nearly all (93%) organisms examined, and identified a total of 834 distinct reproducibly methylated motifs. This data enabled annotation of the DNA binding specificities of 620 DNA Methyltransferases (MTases), doubling known specificities for previously hard to study Type I, IIG and III MTases, and revealing their extraordinary diversity. Strikingly, 48% of organisms harbor active Type II MTases with no apparent cognate restriction enzyme. These active 'orphan' MTases are present in diverse bacterial and archaeal phyla and show motif specificities and methylation patterns consistent with functions in gene regulation and DNA replication. Our results reveal the pervasive presence of DNA methylation throughout the prokaryotic kingdoms, as well as the diversity of sequence specificities and potential functions of DNA methylation systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Conserved Sequence
  • DNA Methylation / genetics
  • DNA Replication / genetics
  • DNA Restriction-Modification Enzymes / classification
  • DNA Restriction-Modification Enzymes / metabolism
  • Epigenomics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genome
  • Methyltransferases / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Annotation
  • Multigene Family
  • Nucleotide Motifs / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Prokaryotic Cells / metabolism*
  • Substrate Specificity


  • DNA Restriction-Modification Enzymes
  • Methyltransferases