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Synonymous codon usage in related species may differ as a result of variation in mutation biases, differences in the overall strength and efficiency of selection, and shifts in codon preference-the selective hierarchy of codons within and between amino acids. We have developed a maximum-likelihood method to employ explicit population genetic models to analyze the evolution of parameters determining codon usage. The method is applied to twofold degenerate amino acids in 50 orthologous genes from D. melanogaster and D. virilis. We find that D. virilis has significantly reduced selection on codon usage for all amino acids, but the data are incompatible with a simple model in which there is a single difference in the long-term Ne, or overall strength of selection, between the two species, indicating shifts in codon preference. The strength of selection acting on codon usage in D. melanogaster is estimated to be |Nes| approximately 0.4 for most CT-ending twofold degenerate amino acids, but 1.7 times greater for cysteine and 1.4 times greater for AG-ending codons. In D. virilis, the strength of selection acting on codon usage for most amino acids is only half that acting in D. melanogaster but is considerably greater than half for cysteine, perhaps indicating the dual selection pressures of translational efficiency and accuracy. Selection coefficients in orthologues are highly correlated (rho = 0.46), but a number of genes deviate significantly from this relationship.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of molecular evolution

Publication Date





63 - 75


Institute of Cell, Animal and Population Biology, Kings Buildings, West Mains Road, University of Edinburgh EH9 3JT, Scotland.


Animals, Drosophila, Drosophila melanogaster, Amino Acids, Codon, Models, Statistical, Likelihood Functions, Evolution, Molecular, Species Specificity, Base Sequence, Genetic Heterogeneity, Mutation, Models, Genetic, Genetic Variation, Selection, Genetic