Recurrent acquisition of cytosine methyltransferases into eukaryotic retrotransposons

Nat Commun. 2018 Apr 9;9(1):1341. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-03724-9.


Transposable elements are in a constant arms race with the silencing mechanisms of their host genomes. One silencing mechanism commonly used by many eukaryotes is dependent on cytosine methylation, a covalent modification of DNA deposited by C5 cytosine methyltransferases (DNMTs). Here, we report how two distantly related eukaryotic lineages, dinoflagellates and charophytes, have independently incorporated DNMTs into the coding regions of distinct retrotransposon classes. Concomitantly, we show that dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium have evolved cytosine methylation patterns unlike any other eukaryote, with most of the genome methylated at CG dinucleotides. Finally, we demonstrate the ability of retrotransposon DNMTs to methylate CGs de novo, suggesting that retrotransposons could self-methylate retrotranscribed DNA. Together, this is an example of how retrotransposons incorporate host-derived genes involved in DNA methylation. In some cases, this event could have implications for the composition and regulation of the host epigenomic environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Charophyceae / enzymology*
  • Charophyceae / genetics*
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / genetics*
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases / metabolism*
  • DNA Methylation / genetics
  • Dinoflagellida / enzymology*
  • Dinoflagellida / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Silencing
  • Phylogeny
  • Retroelements*


  • Retroelements
  • DNA (Cytosine-5-)-Methyltransferases