Adaptation of codon and amino acid use for translational functions in highly expressed cricket genes

BMC Genomics. 2021 Apr 6;22(1):234. doi: 10.1186/s12864-021-07411-w.


Background: For multicellular organisms, much remains unknown about the dynamics of synonymous codon and amino acid use in highly expressed genes, including whether their use varies with expression in different tissue types and sexes. Moreover, specific codons and amino acids may have translational functions in highly transcribed genes, that largely depend on their relationships to tRNA gene copies in the genome. However, these relationships and putative functions are poorly understood, particularly in multicellular systems.

Results: Here, we studied codon and amino acid use in highly expressed genes from reproductive and nervous system tissues (male and female gonad, somatic reproductive system, brain and ventral nerve cord, and male accessory glands) in the cricket Gryllus bimaculatus. We report an optimal codon, defined as the codon preferentially used in highly expressed genes, for each of the 18 amino acids with synonymous codons in this organism. The optimal codons were mostly shared among tissue types and both sexes. However, the frequency of optimal codons was highest in gonadal genes. Concordant with translational selection, a majority of the optimal codons had abundant matching tRNA gene copies in the genome, but sometimes obligately required wobble tRNAs. We suggest the latter may comprise a mechanism for slowing translation of abundant transcripts, particularly for cell-cycle genes. Non-optimal codons, defined as those least commonly used in highly transcribed genes, intriguingly often had abundant tRNAs, and had elevated use in a subset of genes with specialized functions (gametic and apoptosis genes), suggesting their use promotes the translational upregulation of particular mRNAs. In terms of amino acids, we found evidence suggesting that amino acid frequency, tRNA gene copy number, and amino acid biosynthetic costs (size/complexity) had all interdependently evolved in this insect model, potentially for translational optimization.

Conclusions: Collectively, the results suggest a model whereby codon use in highly expressed genes, including optimal, wobble, and non-optimal codons, and their tRNA abundances, as well as amino acid use, have been influenced by adaptation for various functional roles in translation within this cricket. The effects of expression in different tissue types and the two sexes are discussed.

Keywords: Amino acid; Codon; Regulation; Tissue-type; Translational selection; tRNAs.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids* / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Codon / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Dosage
  • Gryllidae* / genetics
  • Gryllidae* / metabolism
  • Male
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • RNA, Transfer / genetics
  • RNA, Transfer / metabolism


  • Amino Acids
  • Codon
  • RNA, Transfer