PerspectiveEvolution

The Hidden Codes That Shape Protein Evolution

Science  13 Dec 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6164, pp. 1325-1326
DOI: 10.1126/science.1248425

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Summary

Despite redundancy in the genetic code (1), the choice of codons used is highly biased in some proteins, suggesting that additional constraints operate in certain protein-coding regions of the genome. This suggests that the preference for particular codons, and therefore amino acids in specific regions of the protein, is often determined by factors unrelated to protein structure or function (2, 3). On page 1367 in this issue, Stergachis et al. (4) reveal that transcription factors bind within protein-coding regions (in addition to nearby noncoding regions) in a large number of human genes. Thus, a transcription factor “binding code” may influence codon choice and, consequently, protein evolution. This “binding” code joins other “regulatory” codes that govern chromatin organization (3), enhancers (5, 6), mRNA structure (7), mRNA splicing (3), microRNA target sites (6, 8), translational efficiency (9), and cotranslational folding (10), all of which have been proposed to constrain codon choice, and thus protein evolution (see the figure).