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PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33547. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033547. Epub 2012 Mar 14.

Synonymous codon ordering: a subtle but prevalent strategy of bacteria to improve translational efficiency.

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State Key Laboratory of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, School of Life Sciences, Nanjing University, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China.



In yeast coding sequences, once a particular codon has been used, subsequent occurrence of the same amino acid tends to use codons sharing the same tRNA. Such a phenomenon of co-tRNA codons pairing bias (CTCPB) is also found in some other eukaryotes but it is not known whether it occurs in prokaryotes.


In this study, we focused on a total of 773 bacterial genomes to investigate their synonymous codon pairing preferences. After calculating the actual frequencies of synonymous codon pairs and comparing them with their expected values, we detected an obvious pairing bias towards identical codon pairs. This seems consistent with the previously reported CTCPB phenomenon, since identical codons are certainly read by the same tRNA. However, among co-tRNA but non-identical codon pairs, only 22 were often found overrepresented, suggesting that many co-tRNA codons actually do not preferentially pair together in prokaryotes. Therefore, the previously reported co-tRNA codons pairing rule needs to be more rigorously defined. The affinity differences between a tRNA anticodon and its readable codons should be taken into account. Moreover, both within-gene-shuffling tests and phylogenetic analyses support the idea that translational selection played an important role in shaping the observed synonymous codon pairing pattern in prokaryotes.


Overall, a high level of synonymous codon pairing bias was detected in 73% investigated bacterial species, suggesting the synonymous codon ordering strategy has been prevalently adopted by prokaryotes to improve their translational efficiencies. The findings in this study also provide important clues to better understand the complex dynamics of translational process.

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