Codon usage and tRNA content in unicellular and multicellular organisms

Mol Biol Evol. 1985 Jan;2(1):13-34. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a040335.


Choices of synonymous codons in unicellular organisms are here reviewed, and differences in synonymous codon usages between Escherichia coli and the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae are attributed to differences in the actual populations of isoaccepting tRNAs. There exists a strong positive correlation between codon usage and tRNA content in both organisms, and the extent of this correlation relates to the protein production levels of individual genes. Codon-choice patterns are believed to have been well conserved during the course of evolution. Examination of silent substitutions and tRNA populations in Enterobacteriaceae revealed that the evolutionary constraint imposed by tRNA content on codon usage decelerated rather than accelerated the silent-substitution rate, at least insofar as pairs of taxonomically related organisms were examined. Codon-choice patterns of multicellular organisms are briefly reviewed, and diversity in G+C percentage at the third position of codons in vertebrate genes--as well as a possible causative factor in the production of this diversity--is discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Codon / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics*
  • RNA, Transfer / genetics*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics


  • Codon
  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA, Transfer