Controlling gene expression is fundamental to biological complexity. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is an important model for studying principles of gene regulation in multi-cellular organisms. A comprehensive parts list of putative regulatory motifs was yet missing for this model system. In this study, we compile a set of putative regulatory motifs by combining evidence from conservation and expression data.
We present an unbiased comparative approach to a regulatory motif compendium for Caenorhabditis species. This involves the assembly of a new nematode genome, whole genome alignments and assessment of conserved k-mers counts. Candidate motifs are selected from a set of 9,500 randomly picked genes by three different motif discovery strategies. Motif candidates have to pass a conservation enrichment filter. Motif degeneracy and length are optimized. Retained motif descriptions are evaluated by expression data using a non-parametric test, which assesses expression changes due to the presence/absence of individual motifs. Finally, we also provide condition-specific motif ensembles by conditional tree analysis.
The nematode genomes align surprisingly well despite high neutral substitution rates. Our pipeline delivers motif sets by three alternative strategies. Each set contains less than 400 motifs, which are significantly conserved and correlated with 214 out of 270 tested gene expression conditions. This motif compendium is an entry point to comprehensive studies on nematode gene regulation. The website: http://corg.eb.tuebingen.mpg.de/CMC has extensive query capabilities, supplements this article and supports the experimental list.