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Open Access Research article

Minimal regulatory spaces in yeast genomes

Wei-Hua Chen1, Wu Wei1 and Martin J Lercher2*

Author Affiliations

1 European molecular biology laboratory (EMBL), Meyerhofstrasse 1, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany

2 Institute for Computer Science, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Universitätsstr. 1, 40225 Düsseldorf, Germany

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:320  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-320

Published: 16 June 2011



The regulatory information encoded in the DNA of promoter regions usually enforces a minimal, non-zero distance between the coding regions of neighboring genes. However, the size of this minimal regulatory space is not generally known. In particular, it is unclear if minimal promoter size differs between species and between uni- and bi-directionally acting regulatory regions.


Analyzing the genomes of 11 yeasts, we show that the lower size limit on promoter-containing regions is species-specific within a relatively narrow range (80-255 bp). This size limit applies equally to regions that initiate transcription on one or both strands, indicating that bi-directional promoters and uni-directional promoters are constrained similarly. We further find that young, species-specific regions are on average much longer than older regions, suggesting either a bias towards deletions or selection for genome compactness in yeasts. While the length evolution of promoter-less intergenic regions is well described by a simplistic, purely neutral model, regions containing promoters typically show an excess of unusually long regions. Regions flanked by divergently transcribed genes have a bi-modal length distribution, with short lengths found preferentially among older regions. These old, short regions likely harbor evolutionarily conserved bi-directionally active promoters. Surprisingly, some of the evolutionarily youngest regions in two of the eleven species (S. cerevisiae and K. waltii) are shorter than the lower limit observed in older regions.


The minimal chromosomal space required for transcriptional regulation appears to be relatively similar across yeast species, and is the same for uni-directional and bi-directional promoters. New intergenic regions created by genome rearrangements tend to evolve towards the more narrow size distribution found among older regions.