Codon choice directs constitutive mRNA levels in trypanosomes.
Selective transcription of individual protein coding genes does not occur in trypanosomes and the cellular copy number of each mRNA must be determined post-transcriptionally. Here, we provide evidence that codon choice directs the levels of constitutively expressed mRNAs. First, a novel codon usage metric, the gene expression codon adaptation index (geCAI), was developed that maximised the relationship between codon choice and the measured abundance for a transcriptome. Second, geCAI predictions of mRNA levels were tested using differently coded GFP transgenes and were successful over a 25-fold range, similar to the variation in endogenous mRNAs. Third, translation was necessary for the accelerated mRNA turnover resulting from codon choice. Thus, in trypanosomes, the information determining the levels of most mRNAs resides in the open reading frame and translation is required to access this information.