Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 59, Issue 2, pp 258–266 | Cite as

Codon Usage Bias and Mutation Constraints Reduce the Level of ErrorMinimization of the Genetic Code

  • Marco Archetti


Studies on the origin of the genetic code compare measures of the degree of error minimization of the standard code with measures produced by random variant codes but do not take into account codon usage, which was probably highly biased during the origin of the code. Codon usage bias could play an important role in the minimization of the chemical distances between amino acids because the importance of errors depends also on the frequency of the different codons. Here I show that when codon usage is taken into account, the degree of error minimization of the standard code may be dramatically reduced, and shifting to alternative codes often increases the degree of error minimization. This is especially true with a high CG content, which was probably the case during the origin of the code. I also show that the frequency of codes that perform better than the standard code, in terms of relative efficiency, is much higher in the neighborhood of the standard code itself, even when not considering codon usage bias; therefore alternative codes that differ only slightly from the standard code are more likely to evolve than some previous analyses suggested. My conclusions are that the standard genetic code is far from being an optimum with respect to error minimization and must have arisen for reasons other than error minimization.


Genetic code Error minimization Codon usage Amino acid similarity Origin of life 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département de Biologie, Section Ecologie et EvolutionUniversité de FribourgFribourgSwitzerland

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