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PLoS Genet. 2019 Jul 31;15(7):e1008304. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1008304. eCollection 2019 Jul.

Variation and selection on codon usage bias across an entire subphylum.

Author information

Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, United States of America.
Laboratory of Genetics, Genome Center of Wisconsin, DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, Wisconsin Energy Institute, J. F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin, United States of America.


Variation in synonymous codon usage is abundant across multiple levels of organization: between codons of an amino acid, between genes in a genome, and between genomes of different species. It is now well understood that variation in synonymous codon usage is influenced by mutational bias coupled with both natural selection for translational efficiency and genetic drift, but how these processes shape patterns of codon usage bias across entire lineages remains unexplored. To address this question, we used a rich genomic data set of 327 species that covers nearly one third of the known biodiversity of the budding yeast subphylum Saccharomycotina. We found that, while genome-wide relative synonymous codon usage (RSCU) for all codons was highly correlated with the GC content of the third codon position (GC3), the usage of codons for the amino acids proline, arginine, and glycine was inconsistent with the neutral expectation where mutational bias coupled with genetic drift drive codon usage. Examination between genes' effective numbers of codons and their GC3 contents in individual genomes revealed that nearly a quarter of genes (381,174/1,683,203; 23%), as well as most genomes (308/327; 94%), significantly deviate from the neutral expectation. Finally, by evaluating the imprint of translational selection on codon usage, measured as the degree to which genes' adaptiveness to the tRNA pool were correlated with selective pressure, we show that translational selection is widespread in budding yeast genomes (264/327; 81%). These results suggest that the contribution of translational selection and drift to patterns of synonymous codon usage across budding yeasts varies across codons, genes, and genomes; whereas drift is the primary driver of global codon usage across the subphylum, the codon bias of large numbers of genes in the majority of genomes is influenced by translational selection.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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