The second parity rule states that, if there is no bias in mutation or selection, then within each strand of DNA complementary bases are present at approximately equal frequencies. In bacteria, however, there is commonly an excess of G (over C) and, to a lesser extent, T (over A) in the replicatory leading strand. The low G+C Firmicutes, such as Staphylococcus aureus, are unusual in displaying an excess of A over T on the leading strand. As mutation has been established as a major force in the generation of such skews across various bacterial taxa, this anomaly has been assumed to reflect unusual mutation biases in Firmicute genomes. Here we show that this is not the case and that mutation bias does not explain the atypical AT skew seen in S. aureus. First, recently arisen intergenic SNPs predict the classical replication-derived equilibrium enrichment of T relative to A, contrary to what is observed. Second, sites predicted to be under weak purifying selection display only weak AT skew. Third, AT skew is primarily associated with largely non-synonymous first and second codon sites and is seen with respect to their sense direction, not which replicating strand they lie on. The atypical AT skew we show to be a consequence of the strong bias for genes to be co-oriented with the replicating fork, coupled with the selective avoidance of both stop codons and costly amino acids, which tend to have T-rich codons. That intergenic sequence has more A than T, while at mutational equilibrium a preponderance of T is expected, points to a possible further unresolved selective source of skew.
Charneski, C. A., Honti, F., Bryant, J. M., Hurst, L. D., & Feil, E. J. (2011). Atypical AT skew in firmicute genomes results from selection and not from mutation. Plos Genetics, 7(9), [e1002283]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1002283