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Open Access Research article

Separating the effects of mutation and selection in producing DNA skew in bacterial chromosomes

Richard A Morton1 and Brian R Morton2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton ON L8S 4K1, Canada

2 Department of Biological Sciences. Barnard College, Columbia University, 3009 Broadway, New York NY 10027, USA

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BMC Genomics 2007, 8:369  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-369

Published: 12 October 2007



Many bacterial chromosomes display nucleotide asymmetry, or skew, between the leading and lagging strands of replication. Mutational differences between these strands result in an overall pattern of skew that is centered about the origin of replication. Such a pattern could also arise from selection coupled with a bias for genes coded on the leading strand. The relative contributions of selection and mutation in producing compositional skew are largely unknown.


We describe a model to quantify the contribution of mutational differences between the leading and lagging strands in producing replication-induced skew. When the origin and terminus of replication are known, the model can be used to estimate the relative accumulation of G over C and of A over T on the leading strand due to replication effects in a chromosome with bidirectional replication arms. The model may also be implemented in a maximum likelihood framework to estimate the locations of origin and terminus. We find that our estimations for the origin and terminus agree very well with the location of genes that are thought to be associated with the replication origin. This indicates that our model provides an accurate, objective method of determining the replication arms and also provides support for the hypothesis that these genes represent an ancestral cluster of origin-associated genes.


The model has several advantages over other methods of analyzing genome skew. First, it quantifies the role of mutation in generating skew so that its effect on composition, for example codon bias, can be assessed. Second, it provides an objective method for locating origin and terminus, one that is based on chromosome-wide accumulation of leading vs lagging strand nucleotide differences. Finally, the model has the potential to be utilized in a maximum likelihood framework in order to analyze the effect of chromosome rearrangements on nucleotide composition.