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Beyond selection for optimal protein functioning, coding sequences (CDSs) are under selection at the RNA and DNA levels. Here, we identify a possible signature of "dual-coding," namely extensive adenine (A) enrichment at bacterial CDS fourth sites. In 99.07% of studied bacterial genomes, fourth site A use is greater than expected given genomic A-starting codon use. Arguing for nucleotide level selection, A-starting serine and arginine second codons are heavily utilized when compared with their non-A starting synonyms. Several models have the ability to explain some of this trend. In part, A-enrichment likely reduces 5' mRNA stability, promoting translation initiation. However T/U, which may also reduce stability, is avoided. Further, +1 frameshifts on the initiating ATG encode a stop codon (TGA) provided A is the fourth residue, acting either as a frameshift "catch and destroy" or a frameshift stop and adjust mechanism and hence implicated in translation initiation. Consistent with both, genomes lacking TGA stop codons exhibit weaker fourth site A-enrichment. Sequences lacking a Shine-Dalgarno sequence and those without upstream leader genes, that may be more error prone during initiation, have greater utilization of A, again suggesting a role in initiation. The frameshift correction model is consistent with the notion that many genomic features are error-mitigation factors and provides the first evidence for site-specific out of frame stop codon selection. We conjecture that the NTG universal start codon may have evolved as a consequence of TGA being a stop codon and the ability of NTGA to rapidly terminate or adjust a ribosome.
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