Successful lateral transfer requires codon usage compatibility between foreign genes and recipient genomes

Mol Biol Evol. 2004 Oct;21(10):1884-94. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msh202. Epub 2004 Jul 7.


We present evidence supporting the notion that codon usage (CU) compatibility between foreign genes and recipient genomes is an important prerequisite to assess the selective advantage of imported functions, and therefore to increase the fixation probability of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) events. This contrasts with the current tendency in research to predict recent HGTs in prokaryotes by assuming that acquired genes generally display poor CU. By looking at the CU level (poor, typical, or rich) exhibited by putative xenologs still resembling their original CU, we found that most alien genes predominantly present typical CU immediately upon introgression, thereby suggesting that the role of CU amelioration in HGT has been overemphasized. In our strategy, we first scanned a representative set of 103 complete prokaryotic genomes for all pairs of candidate xenologs (exported/imported genes) displaying similar CU. We applied additional filtering criteria, including phylogenetic validations, to enhance the reliability of our predictions. Our approach makes no assumptions about the CU of foreign genes being typical or atypical within the recipient genome, thus providing a novel unbiased framework to study the evolutionary dynamics of HGT.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / genetics
  • Codon*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal*
  • Genes / physiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Thermotoga maritima / genetics


  • Codon