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Open Access Research article

Synonymous codon usage bias is correlative to intron number and shows disequilibrium among exons in plants

Zhen Qin1, Zhengqiu Cai2, Guangmin Xia1 and Mengcheng Wang1*

Author Affiliations

1 The Key Laboratory of Plant Cell Engineering and Germplasm Innovation, Ministry of Education, School of Life Science, Shandong University, 27 Shandanan Road, Jinan, Shandong, 250100, China

2 The Center for Biomedical Informatics, Harvard Medical School, 10 Shattuck Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 02115, USA

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:56  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-56

Published: 28 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Evidence has been assembled to suggest synonymous codon usage bias (SCUB) has close relationship with intron. However, the relationship (if any) between SCUB and intron number as well as exon position is at present rather unclear.

Results

To explore this relationship, the sequences of a set of genes containing between zero and nine introns was extracted from the published genome sequences of three algal species, one moss, one fern and six angiosperms (three monocotyledonous species and three dicotyledonous species). In the algal genomes, the frequency of synonymous codons of the form NNG/NNC (codons with G and C at the third position) was positively related to intron number, but that of NNA/NNT was inversely correlated; the opposite was the case in the land plant genomes. The frequency of NNC/NNG was higher and that of NNA/NNT lower in two terminal exons than in the interstitial exons in the land plant genes, but the rule showed to be opposite in the algal genes. SCUB patterns in the interstitial and two terminal exons mirror the different evolutionary relationships between these plant species, while the first exon shows the highest level of conservation is therefore concluded to be the one which experiences the heaviest selection pressure. The phenomenon of SCUB may also be related to DNA methylation induced conversion of CG to AT.

Conclusions

These data provide some evidence of linkage between SCUB, the evolution of introns and DNA methylation, which brings about a new perspective for understanding how genomic variation is created during plant evolution.

Keywords:
Synonymous codon usage bias; Plant evolution; Intron number; Exon position; DNA methylation