More introns exist between codons (phase 0) than between the first and the second bases (phase 1) or between the second and the third base (phase 2) within the codon. Many explanations have been suggested for this excess of phase 0. It has, for example, been argued to reflect an ancient utility for introns in separating exons that code for separate protein modules. There may, however, be a simple, alternative explanation. Introns typically require, for correct splicing, particular nucleotides immediately 5' in exons (typically a G) and immediately 3' in the following exon (also often a G). Introns therefore tend to be found between particular nucleotide pairs (e.g., GIG pairs) in the coding sequence. If. owing, to bias in usage of different codons, these pairs are especially common at phase 0, then intron phase biases may have a trivial explanation. Here we take codon usage frequencies for a variety of eukaryotes and use these to generate random sequences. We then ask about the phase of putative intron insertion sites. Importantly, in all simulated data sets intron phase distribution is biased in favor of phase 0. In many cases the bias is of the magnitude observed in real data and can be attributed to codon usage bias. It is also known that exons may carry either the same phase (symmetric) or different phases (asymmetric) at the opposite ends. We simulated a distribution of different types of exons using frequencies of introns observed in real genes assuming random combination of intron phases at the opposite sides of exons. Surprisingly the simulated pattern was quite similar to that observed. In the simulants we typically observe a prevalence of symmetric exons carrying phase 0 at both ends. which is common for eukaryotic genes. However. at least In some species. the extent of the bias in favor of symmetric (0.0) exons is not as great in simulants as in real genes. These results emphasize the need to construct a biologically relevant null model of successful intron insertion.
Ruvinsky, A., Eskesen, S. T., Eskesen, F. N., & Hurst, L. D. (2005). Can codon usage bias explain intron phase distributions and exon symmetry? Journal of Molecular Evolution, 60(1), 99-104. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00239-004-0032-9