Received October 4, 2004
DNA methylation in lower eukaryotes, in contrast to vertebrates, can involve modification of adenine to N6-methyladenine (m6A). While DNA-[cytosine] methylation in higher eukaryotes has been implicated in many important cellular processes, the function(s) of DNA-[adenine] methylation in lower eukaryotes remains unknown. I have chosen to study the ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila as a model system, since this organism is known to contain m6A, but not m5C, in its macronuclear DNA. A BLAST analysis revealed an open reading frame (ORF) that appears to encode for the Tetrahymena DNA-[adenine] methyltransferase (MTase), based on the presence of motifs characteristic of the enzymes in prokaryotes. Possible biological roles for DNA-[adenine] methylation in Tetrahymena are discussed. Experiments to test these hypotheses have begun with the cloning of the gene. Orthologous ORFs are also present in three species of the malarial parasite Plasmodium. They are compared to one another and to the putative Tetrahymena DNA-[adenine] MTase. The gene from the human parasite P. falciparum has been cloned.
KEY WORDS: DNA methylation, DNA methyltransferase, lower eukaryotes, motifs, open reading frames, Plasmodium, Tetrahymena