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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Gender-specific selection on codon usage in plant genomes

Carrie-Ann Whittle*, Meghna R Malik and Joan E Krochko

Author Affiliations

Plant Biotechnology Institute, National Research Council of Canada, 110 Gymnasium Place, Saskatoon, SK, S7N 0W9, Canada

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BMC Genomics 2007, 8:169  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-169

Published: 13 June 2007



Currently, there is little data available regarding the role of gender-specific gene expression on synonymous codon usage (translational selection) in most organisms, and particularly plants. Using gender-specific EST libraries (with > 4000 ESTs) from Zea mays and Triticum aestivum, we assessed whether gender-specific gene expression per se and gender-specific gene expression level are associated with selection on codon usage.


We found clear evidence of a greater bias in codon usage for genes expressed in female than in male organs and gametes, based on the variation in GC content at third codon positions and the frequency of species-preferred codons. This finding holds true for both highly and for lowly expressed genes. In addition, we found that highly expressed genes have greater codon bias than lowly expressed genes for both female- and male-specific genes. Moreover, in both species, genes with female-specific expression show a greater usage of species-specific preferred codons for each of the 18 amino acids having synonymous codons. A supplemental analysis of Brassica napus suggests that bias in codon usage could also be higher in genes expressed in male gametophytic tissues than in heterogeneous (flower) tissues.


This study reports gender-specific bias in codon usage in plants. The findings reported here, based on the analysis of 1 497 876 codons, are not caused either by differences in the biological functions of the genes or by differences in protein lengths, nor are they likely attributable to mutational bias. The data are best explained by gender-specific translational selection. Plausible explanations for these findings and the relevance to these and other organisms are discussed.