A comprehensive software suite for protein family construction and functional site prediction
Haft DR, Haft DH
In functionally diverse protein families, conservation in short signature regions may outperform full-length sequence comparisons for identifying proteins that belong to a subgroup within which one specific aspect of their function is conserved. The SIMBAL workflow (Sites Inferred by Metabolic Background Assertion Labeling) is a data-mining procedure for finding such signature regions. It begins by using clues from genomic context, such as co-occurrence or conserved gene neighborhoods, to build a useful training set from a large number of uncharacterized but mutually homologous proteins. When training set construction is successful, the YES partition is enriched in proteins that share function with the user's query sequence, while the NO partition is depleted. A selected query sequence is then mined for short signature regions whose closest matches overwhelmingly favor proteins from the YES partition. High-scoring signature regions typically contain key residues critical to functional specificity, so proteins with the highest sequence similarity across these regions tend to share the same function. The SIMBAL algorithm was described previously, but significant manual effort, expertise, and a supporting software infrastructure were required to prepare the requisite training sets. Here, we describe a new, distributable software suite that speeds up and simplifies the process for using SIMBAL, most notably by providing tools that automate training set construction. These tools have broad utility for comparative genomics, allowing for flexible collection of proteins or protein domains based on genomic context as well as homology, a capability that can greatly assist in protein family construction. Armed with this new software suite, SIMBAL can serve as a fast and powerful in silico alternative to direct experimentation for characterizing proteins and their functional interactions.