Geometric Sieving: Automated Distributed Optimization of 3D Motifs for Protein Function Prediction
Determining the function of all proteins is a recurring theme in modern biology and medicine, but the sheer number of proteins makes experimental approaches impractical. For this reason, current efforts have considered in silico function prediction in order to guide and accelerate the function determination process. One approach to predicting protein function is to search functionally uncharacterized protein structures (targets), for substructures with geometric and chemical similarity (matches), to known active sites (motifs). Finding a match can imply that the target has an active site similar to the motif, suggesting functional homology.
An effective function predictor requires effective motifs – motifs whose geometric and chemical characteristics are detected by comparison algorithms within functionally homologous targets (sensitive motifs), which also are not detected within functionally unrelated targets (specific motifs). Designing effective motifs is a difficult open problem. Current approaches select and combine structural, physical, and evolutionary properties to design motifs that mirror functional characteristics of active sites.
We present a new approach, Geometric Sieving (GS), which refines candidate motifs into optimized motifs with maximal geometric and chemical dissimilarity from all known protein structures. The paper discusses both the usefulness and the efficiency of GS. We show that candidate motifs from six well-studied proteins, including α-Chymotrypsin, Dihydrofolate Reductase, and Lysozyme, can be optimized with GS to motifs that are among the most sensitive and specific motifs possible for the candidate motifs. For the same proteins, we also report results that relate evolutionarily important motifs with motifs that exhibit maximal geometric and chemical dissimilarity from all known protein structures. Our current observations show that GS is a powerful tool that can complement existing work on motif design and protein function prediction.
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