Journal of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 48, Issue 5, pp 563–590 | Cite as

Minimal entropy probability paths between genome families

  • Calvin Ahlbrandt
  • Gary Benson
  • William Casey


We develop a metric for probability distributions with applications to biological sequence analysis. Our distance metric is obtained by minimizing a functional defined on the class of paths over probability measures on N categories. The underlying mathematical theory is connected to a constrained problem in the calculus of variations. The solution presented is a numerical solution, which approximates the true solution in a set of cases called rich paths where none of the components of the path is zero. The functional to be minimized is motivated by entropy considerations, reflecting the idea that nature might efficiently carry out mutations of genome sequences in such a way that the increase in entropy involved in transformation is as small as possible. We characterize sequences by frequency profiles or probability vectors, in the case of DNA where N is 4 and the components of the probability vector are the frequency of occurrence of each of the bases A, C, G and T. Given two probability vectors a and b, we define a distance function based as the infimum of path integrals of the entropy function H(p) over all admissible paths p(t), 0 ≤t≤1, with p(t) a probability vector such that p(0)=a and p(1)=b. If the probability paths p(t) are parameterized as y(s) in terms of arc length s and the optimal path is smooth with arc length L, then smooth and ‘‘rich’’ optimal probability paths may be numerically estimated by a hybrid method of iterating Newton’s method on solutions of a two point boundary value problem, with unknown distance L between the abscissas, for the Euler–Lagrange equations resulting from a multiplier rule for the constrained optimization problem together with linear regression to improve the arc length estimate L. Matlab code for these numerical methods is provided which works only for ‘‘rich’’ optimal probability vectors. These methods motivate a definition of an elementary distance function which is easier and faster to calculate, works on non–rich vectors, does not involve variational theory and does not involve differential equations, but is a better approximation of the minimal entropy path distance than the distance ||ba||2. We compute minimal entropy distance matrices for examples of DNA myostatin genes and amino-acid sequences across several species. Output tree dendograms for our minimal entropy metric are compared with dendograms based on BLAST and BLAST identity scores.


ACGT sequences Entropy Probability vectors Probability paths Distance between genome families Constrained variational problems Euler-Lagrange multiplier rules 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MathematicsUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biomathematical SciencesMount Sinai School of MedicineNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Courant InstituteNew York UniversityNYCUSA

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