The selection-mutation-drift theory of synonymous codon usage

Genetics. 1991 Nov;129(3):897-907. doi: 10.1093/genetics/129.3.897.


It is argued that the bias in synonymous codon usage observed in unicellular organisms is due to a balance between the forces of selection and mutation in a finite population, with greater bias in highly expressed genes reflecting stronger selection for efficiency of translation. A population genetic model is developed taking into account population size and selective differences between synonymous codons. A biochemical model is then developed to predict the magnitude of selective differences between synonymous codons in unicellular organisms in which growth rate (or possibly growth yield) can be equated with fitness. Selection can arise from differences in either the speed or the accuracy of translation. A model for the effect of speed of translation on fitness is considered in detail, a similar model for accuracy more briefly. The model is successful in predicting a difference in the degree of bias at the beginning than in the rest of the gene under some circumstances, as observed in Escherichia coli, but grossly overestimates the amount of bias expected. Possible reasons for this discrepancy are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acyl-tRNA Synthetases / genetics
  • Codon*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Genes
  • Genetic Code*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Mutation
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • Ribosomal Proteins / genetics
  • Ribosomes / metabolism
  • Selection, Genetic


  • Codon
  • Ribosomal Proteins
  • Amino Acyl-tRNA Synthetases