Synonymous codon usage, accuracy of translation, and gene length in Caenorhabditis elegans

J Mol Evol. 2001 Mar;52(3):275-80. doi: 10.1007/s002390010155.


In many unicellular organisms, invertebrates, and plants, synonymous codon usage biases result from a coadaptation between codon usage and tRNAs abundance to optimize the efficiency of protein synthesis. However, it remains unclear whether natural selection acts at the level of the speed or the accuracy of mRNAs translation. Here we show that codon usage can improve the fidelity of protein synthesis in multicellular species. As predicted by the model of selection for translational accuracy, we find that the frequency of codons optimal for translation is significantly higher at codons encoding for conserved amino acids than at codons encoding for nonconserved amino acids in 548 genes compared between Caenorhabditis elegans and Homo sapiens. Although this model predicts that codon bias correlates positively with gene length, a negative correlation between codon bias and gene length has been observed in eukaryotes. This suggests that selection for fidelity of protein synthesis is not the main factor responsible for codon biases. The relationship between codon bias and gene length remains unexplained. Exploring the differences in gene expression process in eukaryotes and prokaryotes should provide new insights to understand this key question of codon usage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics*
  • Codon / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Protein Biosynthesis*
  • Regression Analysis


  • Codon