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Open Access Research

Asymmetric directional mutation pressures in bacteria

Jean R Lobry1* and Noboru Sueoka2

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratoire BBE CNRS UMR 5558, Université Claude Bernard, 43 Bd du 11 Novembre 1918, F-69622 Villeurbanne cedex, France

2 Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0347, USA

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Genome Biology 2002, 3:research0058-research0058.14  doi:10.1186/gb-2002-3-10-research0058

Published: 26 September 2002

Abstract

Background

When there are no strand-specific biases in mutation and selection rates (that is, in the substitution rates) between the two strands of DNA, the average nucleotide composition is theoretically expected to be A = T and G = C within each strand. Deviations from these equalities are therefore evidence for an asymmetry in selection and/or mutation between the two strands. By focusing on weakly selected regions that could be oriented with respect to replication in 43 out of 51 completely sequenced bacterial chromosomes, we have been able to detect asymmetric directional mutation pressures.

Results

Most of the 43 chromosomes were found to be relatively enriched in G over C and T over A, and slightly depleted in G+C, in their weakly selected positions (intergenic regions and third codon positions) in the leading strand compared with the lagging strand. Deviations from A = T and G = C were highly correlated between third codon positions and intergenic regions, with a lower degree of deviation in intergenic regions, and were not correlated with overall genomic G+C content.

Conclusions

During the course of bacterial chromosome evolution, the effects of asymmetric directional mutation pressures are commonly observed in weakly selected positions. The degree of deviation from equality is highly variable among species, and within species is higher in third codon positions than in intergenic regions. The orientation of these effects is almost universal and is compatible in most cases with the hypothesis of an excess of cytosine deamination in the single-stranded state during DNA replication. However, the variation in G+C content between species is influenced by factors other than asymmetric mutation pressure.