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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Large-scale genomic 2D visualization reveals extensive CG-AT skew correlation in bird genomes

Xuegong Deng12, Ilkka Havukkala3 and Xuemei Deng1*

Author Affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology & the Key laboratory of Animal Genetics and Breeding of the Ministry of Agriculture, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100094, China

2 Northeastern University, College of Science, Shenyang, 110004, China

3 Auckland University of Technology, Knowledge Engineering and Discovery Research Institute, Auckland, New Zealand

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:234  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-234

Published: 23 November 2007



Bird genomes have very different compositional structure compared with other warm-blooded animals. The variation in the base skew rules in the vertebrate genomes remains puzzling, but it must relate somehow to large-scale genome evolution. Current research is inclined to relate base skew with mutations and their fixation. Here we wish to explore base skew correlations in bird genomes, to develop methods for displaying and quantifying such correlations at different scales, and to discuss possible explanations for the peculiarities of the bird genomes in skew correlation.


We have developed a method called Base Skew Double Triangle (BSDT) for exhibiting the genome-scale change of AT/CG skew as a two-dimensional square picture, showing base skews at many scales simultaneously in a single image. By this method we found that most chicken chromosomes have high AT/CG skew correlation (symmetry in 2D picture), except for some microchromosomes. No other organisms studied (18 species) show such high skew correlations. This visualized high correlation was validated by three kinds of quantitative calculations with overlapping and non-overlapping windows, all indicating that chicken and birds in general have a special genome structure. Similar features were also found in some of the mammal genomes, but clearly much weaker than in chickens. We presume that the skew correlation feature evolved near the time that birds separated from other vertebrate lineages. When we eliminated the repeat sequences from the genomes, the AT and CG skews correlation increased for some mammal genomes, but were still clearly lower than in chickens.


Our results suggest that BSDT is an expressive visualization method for AT and CG skew and enabled the discovery of the very high skew correlation in bird genomes; this peculiarity is worth further study. Computational analysis indicated that this correlation might be a compositional characteristic, present not only in chickens, but also remained or developed in some mammals during evolution. Special aspects of bird metabolism related to e.g. flight may be the reason why birds evolved or retained the skew correlation. Our analysis also indicated that repetitive DNA sequence elements need to be taken into account in studying the evolution of the correlation between AT and CG skews.