As a result of the redundancy of the genetic code, adjacent pairs of amino acids can be encoded by as many as 36 different pairs of synonymous codons. A species-specific “codon pair bias” provides that some synonymous codon pairs are used more or less frequently than statistically predicted. We synthesized de novo large DNA molecules using hundreds of over- or underrepresented synonymous codon pairs to encode the poliovirus capsid protein. Underrepresented codon pairs caused decreased rates of protein translation, and polioviruses containing such amino acid-independent changes were attenuated in mice. Polioviruses thus customized were used to immunize mice and provided protective immunity after challenge. This “death by a thousand cuts” strategy could be generally applicable to attenuating many kinds of viruses.