Hoon Je Seong1, Simon Roux2, Chung Yeon Hwang3 and Woo Jun Sul1*
1Department of Systems Biotechnology, Chung-Ang University, Anseong, Republic of Korea. 2DOE Joint Genome Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, USA. 3School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Research Institute of Oceanography, Seoul National University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
DNA methylation in prokaryotes is involved in many different cellular processes including cell cycle regulation and defense against viruses. To date, most prokaryotic methylation systems have been studied in culturable microorganisms, resulting in a limited understanding of DNA methylation from a microbial ecology perspective. Here, we analyze the distribution patterns of several microbial epigenetics marks in the ocean microbiome through genome-centric metagenomics across all domains of life.
We reconstructed 15,056 viral, 252 prokaryotic, 56 giant viral, and 6 eukaryotic metagenome-assembled genomes from northwest Pacific Ocean seawater samples using short- and long-read sequencing approaches. These metagenome-derived genomes mostly represented novel taxa, and recruited a majority of reads. Thanks to single-molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing technology, base modification could also be detected for these genomes. This showed that DNA methylation can readily be detected across dominant oceanic bacterial, archaeal, and viral populations, and microbial epigenetic changes correlate with population differentiation. Furthermore, our genome-wide epigenetic analysis of Pelagibacter suggests that GANTC, a DNA methyltransferase target motif, is related to the cell cycle and is affected by environmental conditions. Yet, the presence of this motif also partitions the phylogeny of the Pelagibacter phages, possibly hinting at a competitive co-evolutionary history and multiple effects of a single methylation mark.
Overall, this study elucidates that DNA methylation patterns are associated with ecological changes and virus-host dynamics in the ocean microbiome.