Characterizing the native codon usages of a genome: An axis projection approach

James J. Davis, Gary J. Olsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Codon usage can provide insights into the nature of the genes in a genome. Genes that are "native" to a genome (have not been recently acquired by horizontal transfer) range in codon usage from a low-bias "typical" usage to a more biased "high-expression" usage characteristic of genes encoding abundant proteins. Genes that differ from these native codon usages are candidates for foreign genes that have been recently acquired by horizontal gene transfer. In this study, we present a method for characterizing the codon usages of native genes - both typical and highly expressed - within a genome. Each gene is evaluated relative to a half line (or axis) in a 59D space of codon usage. The axis begins at the modal codon usage, the usage that matches the largest number of genes in the genome, and it passes through a point representing the codon usage of a set of genes with expression-related bias. A gene whose codon usage matches (does not significantly differ from) a point on this axis is a candidate native gene, and the location of its projection onto the axis provides a general estimate of its expression level. A gene that differs significantly from all points on the axis is a candidate foreign gene. This automated approach offers significant improvements over existing methods. We illustrate this by analyzing the genomes of Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1 and Bacillus anthracis A0248, which can be difficult to analyze with commonly used methods due to their biased base compositions. Finally, we use this approach to measure the proportion of candidate foreign genes in 923 bacterial and archaeal genomes. The organisms with the most homogeneous genomes (containing the fewest candidate foreign genes) are mostly endosymbionts and parasites, though with exceptions that include Pelagibacter ubique and Beutenbergia cavernae. The organisms with the most heterogeneous genomes (containing the most candidate foreign genes) include members of the genera Bacteroides, Corynebacterium, Desulfotalea, Neisseria, Xylella, and Thermobaculum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-221
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • codon adaptation index
  • factorial correspondence analysis
  • foreign genes
  • horizontal gene transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterizing the native codon usages of a genome: An axis projection approach'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this