Engelhardt, Jan; Oliver Scheer; Peter F. Stadler and Sonja J. Prohaska

DNA methylation is a crucial, abundant mechanism of gene regulation in vertebrates. It is less prevalent in many other metazoan organisms and completely absent in some key model species, such as Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans. We report here a comprehensive study of the presence and absence of DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) in 138 Ecdysozoa, covering Arthropoda, Nematoda, Priapulida, Onychophora, and Tardigrada. Three of these phyla have not been investigated for the presence of DNA methylation before. We observe that the loss of individual DNMTs independently occurred multiple times across ecdysozoan phyla. We computationally predict the presence of DNA methylation based on CpG rates in coding sequences using an implementation of Gaussian Mixture Modeling, MethMod. Integrating both analysis we predict two previously unknown losses of DNA methylation in Ecdysozoa, one within Chelicerata (Mesostigmata) and one in Tardigrada. In the early-branching Ecdysozoa Priapulus caudatus, we predict the presence of a full set of DNMTs and the presence of DNA methylation. We are therefore showing a very diverse and independent evolution of DNA methylation in different ecdysozoan phyla spanning a phylogenetic range of more than 700 million years.