Clustering of functionally related genes in operons allows for coregulated gene expression in prokaryotes. This is advantageous when equal amounts of gene products are required. Production of protein complexes with an uneven stoichiometry, however, requires tuning mechanisms to generate subunits in appropriate relative quantities. Using comparative genomic analysis, we show that differential translation is a key determinant of modulated expression of genes clustered in operons and that codon bias generally is the best in silico indicator of unequal protein production. Variable ribosome density profiles of polycistronic transcripts correlate strongly with differential translation patterns. In addition, we provide experimental evidence that de novo initiation of translation can occur at intercistronic sites, allowing for differential translation of any gene irrespective of its position on a polycistronic messenger. Thus, modulation of translation efficiency appears to be a universal mode of control in bacteria and archaea that allows for differential production of operon-encoded proteins.