A DNA structural atlas for Escherichia coli

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We have performed a computational analysis of DNA structural features in 18 fully sequenced prokaryotic genomes using models for DNA curvature, DNA flexibility, and DNA stability. The structural values that are computed for the Escherichia coli chromosome are significantly different from (and generally more extreme than) that expected from the nucleotide composition. To aid this analysis, we have constructed tools that plot structural measures for all positions in a long DNA sequence (e.g. an entire chromosome) in the form of color-coded wheels (http://www.cbs.dtu. dk/services/GenomeAtlas/). We find that these "structural atlases" are useful for the discovery of interesting features that may then be investigated in more depth using statistical methods. From investigation of the E. coli structural atlas, we discovered a genome-wide trend, where an extended region encompassing the terminus displays a high of level curvature, a low level of flexibility, and a low degree of helix stability. The same situation is found in the distantly related Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus subtilis, suggesting that the phenomenon is biologically relevant. Based on a search for long DNA segments where all the independent structural measures agree, we have found a set of 20 regions with identical and very extreme structural properties. Due to their strong inherent curvature, we suggest that these may function as topological domain boundaries by efficiently organizing plectonemically supercoiled DNA. Interestingly, we find that in practically all the investigated eubacterial and archaeal genomes, there is a trend for promoter DNA being more curved, less flexible, and less stable than DNA in coding regions and in intergenic DNA without promoters. This trend is present regardless of the absolute levels of the structural parameters, and we suggest that this may be related to the requirement for helix unwinding during initiation of transcription, or perhaps to the previously observed location of promoters at the apex of plectonemically supercoiled DNA. We have also analyzed the structural similarities between groups of genes by clustering all RNA and protein-encoding genes in E. coli, based on the average structural parameters. We find that most ribosomal genes (protein-encoding as well as rRNA genes) cluster together, and we suggest that DNA structure may play a role in the transcription of these highly expressed genes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)907-30
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

ID: 46456748