Modal codon usage: Assessing the typical codon usage of a genome

James J. Davis, Gary J. Olsen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Most genomes are heterogeneous in codon usage, so a codon usage study should start by defining the codon usage that is typical to the genome. Although this is commonly taken to be the genomewide average, we propose that the mode-The codon usage that matches the most genes-provides a more useful approximation of the typical codon usage of a genome. We provide a method for estimating the modal codon usage, which utilizes a continuous approximation to the number of matching genes and a simplex optimization. In a survey of bacterial and archaeal genomes, as many as 20% more of the genes in a given genome match the modal codon usage than the average codon usage. We use the mode to examine the evolution of the multireplicon genomes of Agrobacterium tumefaciens C58 and Borrelia burgdorferi B31. In A. tumefaciens, the circular and linear chromosomes are characterized by a common "chromosome-like" codon usage, whereas both plasmids share a distinct "plasmid-like" codon usage. In B. burgdorferi, in addition to different codon-usage biases on the leading and lagging strands of DNA replication found by McInerney (McInerney JO. 1998. Replicational and transcriptional selection on codon usage in Borrelia burgdorferi. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 95:10698-10703), we also detect a codon-usage similarity between linear plasmid lp38 and the leading strand of the chromosome and a high similarity among the cp32 family of plasmids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)800-810
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Codon adaptation index
  • Correspondence analysis
  • Horizontal gene transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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