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Simple Structural Differences between Coding and Noncoding DNA

posted on 2011-02-03, 02:31 authored by Kenneth J. Locey, Ethan P. White


The study of large-scale genome structure has revealed patterns suggesting the influence of evolutionary constraints on genome evolution. However, the results of these studies can be difficult to interpret due to the conceptual complexity of the analyses. This makes it difficult to understand how observed statistical patterns relate to the physical distribution of genomic elements. We use a simpler and more intuitive approach to evaluate patterns of genome structure.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We used randomization tests based on Morisita's Index of aggregation to examine average differences in the distribution of purines and pyrimidines among coding and noncoding regions of 261 chromosomes from 223 microbial genomes representing 21 phylum level groups. Purines and pyrimidines were aggregated in the noncoding DNA of 86% of genomes, but were only aggregated in the coding regions of 52% of genomes. Coding and noncoding DNA differed in aggregation in 94% of genomes. Noncoding regions were more aggregated than coding regions in 91% of these genomes. Genome length appears to limit aggregation, but chromosome length does not. Chromosomes from the same species are similarly aggregated despite substantial differences in length. Aggregation differed among taxonomic groups, revealing support for a previously reported pattern relating genome structure to environmental conditions.


Our approach revealed several patterns of genome structure among different types of DNA, different chromosomes of the same genome, and among different taxonomic groups. Similarity in aggregation among chromosomes of varying length from the same genome suggests that individual chromosome structure has not evolved independently of the general constraints on genome structure as a whole. These patterns were detected using simple and readily interpretable methods commonly used in other areas of biology.


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