Selection on codon bias

Annu Rev Genet. 2008;42:287-99. doi: 10.1146/annurev.genet.42.110807.091442.


In a wide variety of organisms, synonymous codons are used with different frequencies, a phenomenon known as codon bias. Population genetic studies have shown that synonymous sites are under weak selection and that codon bias is maintained by a balance between selection, mutation, and genetic drift. It appears that the major cause for selection on codon bias is that certain preferred codons are translated more accurately and/or efficiently. However, additional and sometimes maybe even contradictory selective forces appear to affect codon usage as well. In this review, we discuss the current understanding of the ways in which natural selection participates in the creation and maintenance of codon bias. We also raise several open questions: (i) Is natural selection weak independently of the level of codon bias? It is possible that selection for preferred codons is weak only when codon bias approaches equilibrium and may be quite strong on genes with codon bias levels that are much lower and/or above equilibrium. (ii) What determines the identity of the major codons? (iii) How do shifts in codon bias occur? (iv) What is the exact nature of selection on codon bias? We discuss these questions in depth and offer some ideas on how they can be addressed using a combination of computational and experimental analyses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Codon / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Genetic Drift
  • Genetics, Population
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation
  • Selection, Genetic*


  • Codon