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Open Access Open Badges Research article

The cost of wobble translation in fungal mitochondrial genomes: integration of two traditional hypotheses

Xuhua Xia

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology and Center for Advanced Research in Environmental Genomics, University of Ottawa 30 Marie Curie, Ottawa, K1N 6N5, Canada

Ottawa Institute of Systems Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:211  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-211

Published: 19 July 2008



Fungal and animal mitochondrial genomes typically have one tRNA for each synonymous codon family. The codon-anticodon adaptation hypothesis predicts that the wobble nucleotide of a tRNA anticodon should evolve towards maximizing Watson-Crick base pairing with the most frequently used codon within each synonymous codon family, whereas the wobble versatility hypothesis argues that the nucleotide at the wobble site should be occupied by a nucleotide most versatile in wobble pairing, i.e., the tRNA wobble nucleotide should be G for NNY codon families, and U for NNR and NNN codon families (where Y stands for C or U, R for A or G and N for any nucleotide).


We here integrate these two traditional hypotheses on tRNA anticodons into a unified model based on an analysis of the wobble costs associated with different wobble base pairs. This novel approach allows the relative cost of wobble pairing to be qualitatively evaluated. A comprehensive study of 36 fungal genomes suggests very different costs between two kinds of U:G wobble pairs, i.e., (1) between a G at the wobble site of a tRNA anticodon and a U at the third codon position (designated MU3:G) and (2) between a U at the wobble site of a tRNA anticodon and a G at the third codon position (designated MG3:U).


In general, MU3:G is much smaller than MG3:U, suggesting no selection against U-ending codons in NNY codon families with a wobble G in the tRNA anticodon but strong selection against G-ending codons in NNR codon families with a wobble U at the tRNA anticodon. This finding resolves several puzzling observations in fungal genomics and corroborates previous studies showing that U3:G wobble is energetically more favorable than G3:U wobble.