Prokaryotic DNA contains three types of methylation: N6-methyladenine, N4-methylcytosine and 5-methylcytosine. The lack of tools to analyse the frequency and distribution of methylated residues in bacterial genomes has prevented a full understanding of their functions. Now, advances in DNA sequencing technology, including single-molecule, real-time sequencing and nanopore-based sequencing, have provided new opportunities for systematic detection of all three forms of methylated DNA at a genome-wide scale and offer unprecedented opportunities for achieving a more complete understanding of bacterial epigenomes. Indeed, as the number of mapped bacterial methylomes approaches 2,000, increasing evidence supports roles for methylation in regulation of gene expression, virulence and pathogen-host interactions.
Genome-wide analysis of DNA methylation patterns using single molecule real-time DNA sequencing has boosted the number of publicly available methylomes. However, there is a lack of tools coupling methylation patterns and the corresponding methyltransferase genes. Here we demonstrate a high-throughput method for coupling methyltransferases with their respective motifs, using automated cloning and analysing the methyltransferases in vectors carrying a strain-specific cassette containing all potential target sites. To validate the method, we analyse the genomes of the thermophile Moorella thermoacetica and the mesophile Acetobacterium woodii, two acetogenic bacteria having substantially modified genomes with 12 methylation motifs and a total of 23 methyltransferase genes. Using our method, we characterize the 23 methyltransferases, assign motifs to the respective enzymes and verify activity for 11 of the 12 motifs.
The DNA base modification N6-methyladenine (m6A) is involved in many pathways related to the survival of bacteria and their interactions with hosts. Nanopore sequencing offers a new, portable method to detect base modifications. Here, we show that a neural network can improve m6A detection at trained sequence contexts compared to previously published methods using deviations between measured and expected current values as each adenine travels through a pore. The model, implemented as the mCaller software package, can be extended to detect known or confirm suspected methyltransferase target motifs based on predictions of methylation at untrained contexts. We use PacBio, Oxford Nanopore, methylated DNA immunoprecipitation sequencing (MeDIP-seq), and whole-genome bisulfite sequencing data to generate and orthogonally validate methylomes for eight microbial reference species. These well-characterized microbial references can serve as controls in the development and evaluation of future methods for the identification of base modifications from single-molecule sequencing data.