The Dam methyltransferase (DamMT) activity, broadly distributed in association with restriction endonucleases, as part of the restriction-modification defense systems, has evolved to become intimately associated with essential biological functions in a few organisms. In Escherichia coli, DamMT is involved in multiple aspects of DNA maintenance, replication initiation, daughter chromosome segregation, DNA mismatch repair, gene expression control, etc.Motivation
The participation of DamMT in such a diverse set of functions required that other genes adapted, or emerged through evolution, in response to the DamMT-induced modification of the genomic environment. One example is SeqA, a protein that senses the methylation status of the origin of replication of the chromosome to control the timing of replication initiation.Motivation
Interestingly, seqA is only present in a few DamMT-specifying proteobacteria. This observation led us to hypothesize that other genes, specifying related functions, might also be found in these organisms. To test this hypothesis, we implemented a large-scale comparative genomic screen meant to identify genes specifying DNA methylation sensing domains, probably involved in DNA maintenance functions.Results
We carried out a phylogenetic analysis of DamMT, identifying two contrasting behaviors of the protein. Based on this phylogeny, we defined precisely a set of genomes, in which the protein activity is likely to be involved in DNA maintenance functions, the ‘resident’ dam genomes. We defined a second set of genomes, in which DamMT is not resident. We developped a new tool, ‘DomainSieve’, in order to screen these two sets for protein domains that are strictly associated with ‘resident’ dam genomes.Results
This approach was rewarding and generated a list of genes, among which some, at least, specify activities with clear linkage to DamMT-dependent DNA methylation and DNA maintenance.