The presence of 5-methylcytidine (m5C) in tRNA and rRNA molecules of a wide variety of organisms was first observed more than 40 years ago. However, detection of this modification was limited to specific, abundant, RNA species, due to the usage of low-throughput methods. To obtain a high resolution, systematic, and comprehensive transcriptome-wide overview of m5C across the three domains of life, we used bisulfite treatment on total RNA from both gram positive (B. subtilis) and gram negative (E. coli) bacteria, an archaeon (S. solfataricus) and a eukaryote (S. cerevisiae), followed by massively parallel sequencing. We were able to recover most previously documented m5C sites on rRNA in the four organisms, and identified several novel sites in yeast and archaeal rRNAs. Our analyses also allowed quantification of methylated m5C positions in 64 tRNAs in yeast and archaea, revealing stoichiometric differences between the methylation patterns of these organisms. Molecules of tRNAs in which m5C was absent were also discovered. Intriguingly, we detected m5C sites within archaeal mRNAs, and identified a consensus motif of AUCGANGU that directs methylation in S. solfataricus. Our results, which were validated using m5C-specific RNA immunoprecipitation, provide the first evidence for mRNA modifications in archaea, suggesting that this mode of post-transcriptional regulation extends beyond the eukaryotic domain.
Ribonucleic acids are universally used to express genetic information in the form of gene transcripts. Although we envision RNA as a mere copy of the DNA four-base code, modification of specific RNA bases can expand the information code. Such modifications are abundant in transfer RNA (tRNA) and ribosomal RNA (rRNA), where they contribute to translation fidelity and ribosome assembly. Recent studies in eukaryotes have shown that mRNA modifications such as RNA-editing (conversion of an adenosine base to inosine), N6-adenine methylation (m6A), and 5-methylcytidine (m5C) can change the coding sequence, alter splicing patterns, or change RNA stability. However, no mRNA modifications in bacteria or archaea have been documented to date. We have used an approach that enables mapping of the m5C modifications across all expressed genes in a given organism. Applying this approach on model bacterial, archaeal, and fungal microorganisms enabled us to reveal the modified RNA bases in these organisms, and to provide an accurate and sensitive map of these modifications. In archaea, we documented multiple genes whose mRNAs are subject to RNA modification, suggesting that similar to eukaryotes, these organisms may utilize mRNA modifications as a mechanism for gene regulation.