Selection at the wobble position of codons read by the same tRNA in Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Mol Biol Evol. 1999 Dec;16(12):1752-62. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a026087.


The transfer RNA gene complement of Saccharomyces cerevisiae was utilized for a whole-genome analysis of the deviation from a neutral usage of pyrimidine-ending cognate codons, that is, codons read by a single tRNA species having either inosine or guanosine as the first anticodon base. Mutational pressure at the wobble position was estimated from the base composition of the noncoding portion of the yeast genome. The selective pressure for translational efficiency was inferred from the degree of codon adaptation to tRNA gene redundancy and from mRNA abundance data derived from yeast transcriptome analysis. Amino acid conservation in orthologous comparisons with wholly sequenced microbial genomes was used to estimate translational accuracy requirements. A close correspondence was observed between the usage of wobble position pyrimidines and the frequency predicted by mutational bias. However, in the case of four cognate pairs (Gly: ggu/ggc; Asn: aau/aac; Phe: uuu/uuc; Tyr: uau/ uac) all read by guanosine-starting anticodons, we found evidence for a strong selective pressure driven by translational efficiency. Only for the glycine pair, wobble pyrimidine choice also appears to fulfill a translational accuracy requirement. Wobble pyrimidine selection is strictly related to the number of hydrogen bonds formed by alternative cognate codons: whenever a different number of hydrogen bonds can be formed at the wobble position, there is selection against six- or nine-hydrogen-bonded codon-anticodon pairs. Our results indicate that an intrinsic codon preference, critically dependent on the stability of codon-anticodon interaction and mainly reflecting selection for the optimization of translational efficiency, is built into the translational apparatus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Codon
  • Genome, Fungal*
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • Pyrimidines / chemistry
  • RNA, Transfer / chemistry
  • RNA, Transfer / genetics*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / chemistry
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics*
  • Sequence Alignment


  • Codon
  • Pyrimidines
  • RNA, Transfer