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Keywords:

  • codon usage;
  • diversity;
  • Drosophila;
  • GC-content;
  • Hill-Robertson interference;
  • linkage;
  • selective constraints;
  • substitution rate

Abstract

A strong negative correlation between the rate of amino-acid substitution and codon usage bias in Drosophila has been attributed to interference between positive selection at nonsynonymous sites and weak selection on codon usage. To further explore this possibility we have investigated polymorphism and divergence at three kinds of sites: synonymous, nonsynonymous and intronic in relation to codon bias in D. melanogaster and D. simulans. We confirmed that protein evolution is one of the main explicative parameters for interlocus codon bias variation (r2∼ 40%). However, intron or synonymous diversities, which could have been expected to be good indicators of local interference [here defined as the additional increase of drift due to selection on tightly linked sites, also called ‘genetic draft’ by Gillespie (2000)] did not covary significantly with codon bias or with protein evolution. Concurrently, levels of polymorphism were reduced in regions of low recombination rates whereas codon bias was not. Finally, while nonsynonymous diversities were very well correlated between species, neither synonymous nor intron diversities observed in D. melanogaster were correlated with those observed in D. simulans. All together, our results suggest that the selective constraint on the protein is a stable component of gene evolution while local interference is not. The pattern of variation in genetic draft along the genome therefore seems to be instable through evolutionary times and should therefore be considered as a minor determinant of codon bias variance. We argue that selective constraints for optimal codon usage are likely to be correlated with selective constraints on the protein, both between codons within a gene, as previously suggested, and also between genes within a genome.