In eubacteria, unlike eukaryotes, there is no evidence for selection favouring fail-safe 3' additional stop codons

Alexander T. Ho, Laurence D. Hurst

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8 Citations (SciVal)


Errors throughout gene expression are likely deleterious, hence genomes are under selection to ameliorate their consequences. Additional stop codons (ASCs) are in-frame nonsense 'codons' downstream of the primary stop which may be read by translational machinery should the primary stop have been accidentally read through. Prior evidence in several eukaryotes suggests that ASCs are selected to prevent potentially-deleterious consequences of read-through. We extend this evidence showing that enrichment of ASCs is common but not universal for single cell eukaryotes. By contrast, there is limited evidence as to whether the same is true in other taxa. Here, we provide the first systematic test of the hypothesis that ASCs act as a fail-safe mechanism in eubacteria, a group with high read-through rates. Contra to the predictions of the hypothesis we find: there is paucity, not enrichment, of ASCs downstream; substitutions that degrade stops are more frequent in-frame than out-of-frame in 3' sequence; highly expressed genes are no more likely to have ASCs than lowly expressed genes; usage of the leakiest primary stop (TGA) in highly expressed genes does not predict ASC enrichment even compared to usage of non-leaky stops (TAA) in lowly expressed genes, beyond downstream codon +1. Any effect at the codon immediately proximal to the primary stop can be accounted for by a preference for a T/U residue immediately following the stop, although if anything, TT- and TC- starting codons are preferred. We conclude that there is no compelling evidence for ASC selection in eubacteria. This presents an unusual case in which the same error could be solved by the same mechanism in eukaryotes and prokaryotes but is not. We discuss two possible explanations: that, owing to the absence of nonsense mediated decay, bacteria may solve read-through via gene truncation and in eukaryotes certain prion states cause raised read-through rates.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1008386
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
JournalPlos Genetics
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Cancer Research


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