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Open Access Research article

Molecular evolution of synonymous codon usage in Populus

Pär K Ingvarsson

Author Affiliations

Umeå Plant Science Centre, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, SE90187 Umeå, Sweden

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:307  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-307

Published: 4 November 2008

Abstract

Background

Evolution of synonymous codon usage is thought to be determined by a balance between mutation, genetic drift and natural selection on translational efficiency. However, natural selection on codon usage is considered to be a weak evolutionary force and selection on codon usage is expected to be strongest in species with large effective population sizes.

Results

I examined the evolution of synonymous codons using EST data from five species of Populus. Data on relative synonymous codon usage in genes with high and low gene expression were used to identify 25 codons from 18 different amino acids that were deemed to be preferred codons across all five species. All five species show significant correlations between codon bias and gene expression, independent of base composition, thus indicating that translational selection has shaped synonymous codon usage. Using a set of 158 orthologous genes I detected an excess of unpreferred to preferred (U P) mutations in two lineages, P. tremula and P. deltoides. Maximum likelihood estimates of the strength of selection acting on synonymous codons was also significantly greater than zero in P. tremula, with the ML estimate of 4Nes = 0.720.

Conclusion

The data is consistent with weak selection on preferred codons in all five species. There is also evidence suggesting that selection on synonymous codons has increased in P. tremula. Although the reasons for the increase in selection on codon usage in the P. tremula lineage are not clear, one possible explanation is an increase in the effective population size in P. tremula.