Many factors are at play within the genome of an organism, contributing to much of the diversity and variation across the tree of life. While the genome is generally encoded by four nucleotides, A, C, T, and G, this code can be expanded. One particular mechanism that we examine in this thesis is modification of bases—more specifically, methylation of Adenine (m6A) within the GATC motif of Escherichia coli. These methylated adenines are especially important in a process called methyl-directed mismatch repair (MMR), a pathway responsible for repairing errors in the DNA sequence produced by replication. In this pathway, methylated adenines identify the parent strand and direct the repair proteins to correct the erroneous base in the daughter strand. While the primary role of methylated adenines at GATC sites is to direct the MMR pathway, this methylation has also been found to affect other processes, such as gene expression, the activity of transposable elements, and the timing of DNA replication. However, in the absence of MMR, the ability of these other processes to maintain adenine methylation and its targets is unknown.
To determine if the disruption of the MMR pathway results in the reduced conservation of methylated adenines as well as an increased tolerance for mutations that result in the loss or gain of new GATC sites, we surveyed individual clones isolated from experimentally evolving wild-type and MMR-deficient (mutL- ;conferring an 150x increase in mutation rate) populations of E. coli with whole-genome sequencing. Initial analysis revealed a lack of mutations affecting methylation sites (GATC tetranucleotides) in wild-type clones. However, the inherent low mutation rates conferred by the wild-type background render this result inconclusive, due to a lack of statistical power, and reveal a need for a more direct measure of changes in methylation status. Thus as a first step to comparative methylomics, we benchmarked four different methylation-calling pipelines on three biological replicates of the wildtype progenitor strain for our evolved populations.
While it is understood that these methylated sites play a role in the MMR pathway, it is not fully understood the full extent of their effect on the genome. Thus the goal of this thesis was to better understand the forces which maintain the genome, specifically concerning m6A within the GATC motif.