Patterns of codon usage have been extensively studied among Bacteria and Eukaryotes, but there has been little investigation of species from the third domain of life, the Archaea. Here, we examine the nature of codon usage bias in a methanogenic archaeon, Methanococcus maripaludis. Genome-wide patterns of codon usage are dominated by a strong A + T bias, presumably largely reflecting mutation patterns. Nevertheless, there is variation among genes in the use of a subset of putatively translationally optimal codons, which is strongly correlated with gene expression level. In comparison with Bacteria such as Escherichia coli, the strength of selected codon usage bias in highly expressed genes in M. maripaludis seems surprisingly high given its moderate growth rate. However, the pattern of selected codon usage differs between M. maripaludis and E. coli: in the archaeon, strongly selected codon usage bias is largely restricted to twofold degenerate amino acids (AAs). Weaker bias among the codons for fourfold degenerate AAs is consistent with the small number of tRNA genes in the M. maripaludis genome.
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