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Open Access Research article

Genes optimized by evolution for accurate and fast translation encode in Archaea and Bacteria a broad and characteristic spectrum of protein functions

Conrad von Mandach1 and Rainer Merkl2*

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science, University of Hagen, D-58084 Hagen, Germany

2 Institute of Biophysics and Physical Biochemistry, University of Regensburg, D-93040 Regensburg, Germany

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:617  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-617

Published: 4 November 2010



In many microbial genomes, a strong preference for a small number of codons can be observed in genes whose products are needed by the cell in large quantities. This codon usage bias (CUB) improves translational accuracy and speed and is one of several factors optimizing cell growth. Whereas CUB and the overrepresentation of individual proteins have been studied in detail, it is still unclear which high-level metabolic categories are subject to translational optimization in different habitats.


In a systematic study of 388 microbial species, we have identified for each genome a specific subset of genes characterized by a marked CUB, which we named the effectome. As expected, gene products related to protein synthesis are abundant in both archaeal and bacterial effectomes. In addition, enzymes contributing to energy production and gene products involved in protein folding and stabilization are overrepresented. The comparison of genomes from eleven habitats shows that the environment has only a minor effect on the composition of the effectomes. As a paradigmatic example, we detailed the effectome content of 37 bacterial genomes that are most likely exposed to strongest selective pressure towards translational optimization. These effectomes accommodate a broad range of protein functions like enzymes related to glycolysis/gluconeogenesis and the TCA cycle, ATP synthases, aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, chaperones, proteases that degrade misfolded proteins, protectants against oxidative damage, as well as cold shock and outer membrane proteins.


We made clear that effectomes consist of specific subsets of the proteome being involved in several cellular functions. As expected, some functions are related to cell growth and affect speed and quality of protein synthesis. Additionally, the effectomes contain enzymes of central metabolic pathways and cellular functions sustaining microbial life under stress situations. These findings indicate that cell growth is an important but not the only factor modulating translational accuracy and speed by means of CUB.