scnRCA: a novel method to detect consistent patterns of translational selection in mutationally-biased genomes

PLoS One. 2013 Oct 7;8(10):e76177. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076177. eCollection 2013.


Codon usage bias (CUB) results from the complex interplay between translational selection and mutational biases. Current methods for CUB analysis apply heuristics to integrate both components, limiting the depth and scope of CUB analysis as a technique to probe into the evolution and optimization of protein-coding genes. Here we introduce a self-consistent CUB index (scnRCA) that incorporates implicit correction for mutational biases, facilitating exploration of the translational selection component of CUB. We validate this technique using gene expression data and we apply it to a detailed analysis of CUB in the Pseudomonadales. Our results illustrate how the selective enrichment of specific codons among highly expressed genes is preserved in the context of genome-wide shifts in codon frequencies, and how the balance between mutational and translational biases leads to varying definitions of codon optimality. We extend this analysis to other moderate and fast growing bacteria and we provide unified support for the hypothesis that C- and A-ending codons of two-box amino acids, and the U-ending codons of four-box amino acids, are systematically enriched among highly expressed genes across bacteria. The use of an unbiased estimator of CUB allows us to report for the first time that the signature of translational selection is strongly conserved in the Pseudomonadales in spite of drastic changes in genome composition, and extends well beyond the core set of highly optimized genes in each genome. We generalize these results to other moderate and fast growing bacteria, hinting at selection for a universal pattern of gene expression that is conserved and detectable in conserved patterns of codon usage bias.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Codon*
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Genome
  • Moraxellaceae / genetics
  • Mutation*
  • Pseudomonas / genetics
  • Selection, Genetic*


  • Codon

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the UMBC Office of Research through a Special Research Assistantship/Initiative Support (SRAIS) award, by UMBC start-up funds and by NSF grant MCB-1158056. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.