The range of hosts that parasites can infect is a key determinant of the emergence and spread of disease. Yet, the impact of host range variation on the evolution of parasite genomes remains unknown. Here, we show that codon optimization underlies genome adaptation in broad host range parasites. We found that the longer proteins encoded by broad host range fungi likely increase natural selection on codon optimization in these species. Accordingly, codon optimization correlates with host range across the fungal kingdom. At the species level, biased patterns of synonymous substitutions underpin increased codon optimization in a generalist but not a specialist fungal pathogen. Virulence genes were consistently enriched in highly codon-optimized genes of generalist but not specialist species. We conclude that codon optimization is related to the capacity of parasites to colonize multiple hosts. Our results link genome evolution and translational regulation to the long-term persistence of generalist parasitism.
Keywords: codon usage; evolutionary biology; fungal parasites; genome evolution; genomics; host range.