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Genome Biol Evol. 2018 Apr 1;10(4):1185-1197. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evy066.

Signatures of DNA Methylation across Insects Suggest Reduced DNA Methylation Levels in Holometabola.

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Center for Molecular Biodiversity Research, Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig, Bonn, Germany.
Evolutionary Biology and Ecology, Institute of Biology I (Zoology), Albert Ludwig University Freiburg, Freiburg (Brsg.), Germany.
Australian National Insect Collection, CSIRO National Research Collections Australia, Acton, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.
Division of Evolutionary Biology, Faculty of Biology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Planegg, Germany.


It has been experimentally shown that DNA methylation is involved in the regulation of gene expression and the silencing of transposable element activity in eukaryotes. The variable levels of DNA methylation among different insect species indicate an evolutionarily flexible role of DNA methylation in insects, which due to a lack of comparative data is not yet well-substantiated. Here, we use computational methods to trace signatures of DNA methylation across insects by analyzing transcriptomic and genomic sequence data from all currently recognized insect orders. We conclude that: 1) a functional methylation system relying exclusively on DNA methyltransferase 1 is widespread across insects. 2) DNA methylation has potentially been lost or extremely reduced in species belonging to springtails (Collembola), flies and relatives (Diptera), and twisted-winged parasites (Strepsiptera). 3) Holometabolous insects display signs of reduced DNA methylation levels in protein-coding sequences compared with hemimetabolous insects. 4) Evolutionarily conserved insect genes associated with housekeeping functions tend to display signs of heavier DNA methylation in comparison to the genomic/transcriptomic background. With this comparative study, we provide the much needed basis for experimental and detailed comparative analyses required to gain a deeper understanding on the evolution and function of DNA methylation in insects.

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