March 27, 2013, Oakland, CA - A group of scientists from Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute and UC Berkeley report the first mapping of genome methylation in the fruit-fly Drosophila melanogaster in their paper "Genome methylation in D. melanogaster is found at specific short motifs and is independent of DNMT2 activity," published this month in Genome Research.
This paper represents a major advance in the study of DNA methylation in insects. No previous study has succeeded in pinpointing the location of DNA methylation in the fly genome. The common opinion in the field was that the fly does not have genomic methylation. But Drs. Sachiko Takayama and Joseph Dhahbi, co-first authors who carried out the key work, and Drs. David Martin and Dario Boffelli, who led the project, found otherwise. The authors were able to detect genomic methylation in the fly by solving the main technical hurdle: fly methylation is relatively rare, and they developed a sensitive method that allowed them to detect it.
Why is this finding important? Methylation is a stable chemical modification of the genome; in humans and other vertebrates it participates in controlling when and where genes are on and off, but its functions in other organisms are not understood. The finding suggests that genome methylation may have a hitherto uncharacterized function. While the authors still do not know what genome methylation does in the fly, they were able to find that the DNA sequence patterns that associate with methylation are very different from the patterns seen in humans, or in other animal or plant species to date.
Drosophila is one of the classic model organisms, with very well established tools to study its biology. The researchers' description of methylation in the fly will facilitate the use of this powerful experimental system to study methylation. Drosophila has only one known enzyme that could establish DNA methylation, and the researchers show that this enzyme is not responsible for the methylation patterns they detected. The fly genome has been studied very deeply, but the finding suggests that a new enzyme lies undiscovered within it.
The research team also included additional researchers from CHORI and UC Berkeley. For a link to the paper and its authors, please click here.
About Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland
Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland is a premier, not-for-profit medical center for children in Northern California, and is the only hospital in the East Bay 100% devoted to pediatrics. Children's Oakland affiliated with UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital on January 1, 2014. Children's Oakland is a national leader in many pediatric specialties including hematology/oncology, neonatology, cardiology, orthopaedics, sports medicine, and neurosurgery. The hospital is one of only two solely designated California Level 1 pediatric trauma centers in the region, and has one of largest pediatric intensive care units in Northern California. Children's Oakland has 190 licensed beds, over 500 physicians in 43 specialties, more than 2,600 employees, and a consolidated annual operating budget of more than $500 million. Children's is also a leading teaching hospital with an outstanding pediatric residency program and a number of unique pediatric subspecialty fellowship programs.
Children's research arm, Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), is internationally known for its basic and clinical research. CHORI is at the forefront of translating research into interventions for treating and preventing human diseases. CHORI has 250 members of its investigative staff, a budget of about $50 million, and is ranked among the nation's top ten research centers for National Institutes of Health funding to children's hospitals. For more information, go to http://www.