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Background: Codon usage bias (CUB), the uneven use of synonymous codons, is a ubiquitous observation in virtually all organisms examined. The pattern of codon usage is generally similar among closely related species, but differs significantly among distantly related organisms, e.g., bacteria, yeast, and Drosophila. Several explanations for CUB have been offered and some have been supported by observations and experiments, although a thorough understanding of the evolutionary forces (random drift, mutation bias, and selection) and their relative importance remains to be determined. The recently available complete genome DNA sequences of twelve phylogenetically defined species of Drosophila offer a hitherto unprecedented opportunity to examine these problems. We report here the patterns of codon usage in the twelve species and offer insights on possible evolutionary forces involved.
Results: (1) Codon usage is quite stable across 11/12 of the species: G- and especially C-ending codons are used most frequently, thus defining the preferred codons. (2) The only amino acid that changes in preferred codon is Serine with six species of the melanogaster group favoring TCC while the other species, particularly subgenus Drosophila species, favor AGC. (3) D. willistoni is an exception to these generalizations in having a shifted codon usage for seven amino acids toward A/T in the wobble position. (4) Amino acids differ in their contribution to overall CUB, Leu having the greatest and Asp the least. (5) Among two-fold degenerate amino acids, A/G ending amino acids have more selection on codon usage than T/C ending amino acids. (6) Among the different chromosome arms or elements, genes on the non-recombining element F (dot chromosome) have the least CUB, while genes on the element A (X chromosome) have the most. (7) Introns indicate that mutation bias in all species is approximately 2:1, AT:GC, the opposite of codon usage bias. (8) There is also evidence for some overall regional bias in base composition that may influence codon usage.
Conclusion: Overall, these results suggest that natural selection has acted on codon usage in the genus Drosophila, at least often enough to leave a footprint of selection in modern genomes. However, there is evidence in the data that random forces (drift and mutation) have also left patterns in the data, especially in genes under weak selection for codon usage for example genes in regions of low recombination. The documentation of codon usage patterns in each of these twelve genomes also aids in ongoing annotation efforts.