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Single molecule-level detection and long read-based phasing of epigenetic variations in bacterial methylomes

By John Beaulaurier, Shijia Zhu, Robert Sebra, Xue-Song Zhang, Chaggai Rosenbluh, Gintaras Deikus, Nan Shen, Diana Munera, Matthew K. Waldor, Martin Blaser, Andrew Chess, Eric E. Schadt, Gang Fang

Posted 17 Sep 2014
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/007823 (published DOI: 10.1038/ncomms8438)

Comprehensive genome-wide analyses of bacterial DNA methylation have not been possible until the recent advent of single molecule, real-time (SMRT) sequencing. This technology enables the direct detection of N6-methyladenine (6mA) and 4-methylcytosine (4mC) at single nucleotide resolution on a genome-wide scale. The distributions of these two major types of DNA methylation, along with 5-methylcytosine (5mC), comprise the bacterial methylome, some rare exceptions notwithstanding. SMRT sequencing has already revealed marked diversity in bacterial methylomes as well as the existence of heterogeneity of methylation in cells in single bacterial colonies, where such ‘epigenetic’ variation can enable bacterial populations to rapidly adapt to changing conditions. However, current methods for studying bacterial methylomes using SMRT sequencing mainly rely on population-level summaries that do not provide the single-cell resolution necessary for dissecting the epigenetic heterogeneity in bacterial populations. Here, we present a novel SMRT sequencing-based framework, consisting of two complementary methods, for single molecule-level detection of DNA methylation and assessment of methyltransferase activity through single molecule-level long read-based epigenetic phasing. Using seven bacterial strains and integrating data from SMRT and Illumina sequencing, we show that our method yields significantly improved resolution compared to existing population-level methods, and reveals several distinct types of epigenetic heterogeneity. Our approach enables new investigations of the complex architecture and dynamics of bacterial methylomes and provides a powerful new tool for the study of bacterial epigenetic control.

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