Codon usage bias covaries with expression breadth and the rate of synonymous evolution in humans, but this is not evidence for selection

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In numerous species, from bacteria to Drosophila, evidence suggests that selection acts even on synonymous codon usage: codon bias is greater in more abundantly expressed genes, the rate of synonymous evolution is lower in genes with greater codon bias, and there is consistency between genes in the same species in which codons are preferred. In contrast, in mammals, while nonequal use of alternative codons is observed, the bias is attributed to the background variance in nucleotide concentrations, reflected in the similar nucleotide composition of flanking noncoding and exonic third sites. However. a systematic examination of the covariants of codon usage controlling for background nucleotide content has yet to be performed. Here we present a new method to measure codon bias that corrects for background nucleotide content and apply this to 2396 human genes, Nearly all (99%) exhibit a higher amount of codon bias than expected by chance. The patterns associated with selectively driven codon bias are weakly recovered: Broadly expressed genes have a higher level of bias than do tissue-specific genes, the bias is higher for genes with lower rates of synonymous substitutions, and certain codons are repeatedly preferred. However, while these patterns are suggestive, the first two patterns appear to be methodological artifacts. The last pattern reflects in part biases in usage of nucleotide pairs. We conclude that we find no evidence for selection on codon usage in humans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1191-1199
Number of pages9
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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