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Malaria parasite genomes have a range of codon biases, with Plasmodium falciparum one of the most AT-biased genomes known. We examined the make up of synonymous coding sites and stop codons in the core genomes of representative malaria parasites, showing first that local DNA context influences codon bias similarly across P. falciparum, P. vivax and P. berghei, with suppression of CpG dinucleotides and enhancement of CpC dinucleotides, both within and aross codons. Intense asexual phase gene expression in P. falciparum and P. berghei is associated with increased A3:G3 bias but reduced T3:C3 bias at 2-fold sites, consistent with adaptation of codons to tRNA pools and avoidance of wobble tRNA interactions that potentially slow down translation. In highly expressed genes, the A3:G3 ratio can exceed 30-fold while the T3:C3 ratio can be less than 1, according to the encoded amino acid and subsequent base. Lysine codons (AAA/G) show distinctive behaviour with substantially reduced A3:G3 bias in highly expressed genes, perhaps because of selection against frameshifting when the AAA codon is followed by another adenine. Intense expression is also associated with a strong bias towards TAA stop codons (found in 94% and 89% of highly expressed P. falciparum and P. berghei genes respectively) and a proportional rise in the TAAA stop 'tetranucleotide'. The presence of these expression-linked effects in the relatively AT-rich malaria parasite species adds weight to the suggestion that AT-richness in the Plasmodium genus might be a fitness adaptation. Potential explanations for the relative lack of codon bias in P. vivax include the distinct features of its lifecycle and its effective population size over evolutionary time.

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Journal article


Sci Rep

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