While determining the minor and major base composition of the DNA from 17 types of thermophilic bacteria by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) of enzymatic digests, we have discovered a novel base, N4-methylcytosine (m4C). Its structure was proven by comparison of the DNA-derived nucleoside to the analogous authentic compound by HPLC, UV spectroscopy, and mass spectroscopy. Eight of the bacterial DNAs contained m4C. Only two contained the common minor base, 5-methylcytosine (m5C), and neither of these was from an extreme thermophile. The other prevalent modified base of bacterial DNA, N6-methyladenine (m6A), was found in nine of the DNAs. Restriction analysis revealed that four of the DNAs had dam-type (Gm6ATC) methylation patterns. Due to the propensity of m5C residues to be deaminated by heat to thymine residues and to inefficient repair of the resulting mismatched base pairs, thermophiles with optimal growth temperatures of greater than or equal to 60 degrees C generally may avoid having m5C in their genomes. Instead, some of them have deamination-resistant m4C residues.