Computational inference of grammars for larger-than-gene structures from annotated gene sequences

Guy Tsafnat*, Jaron Schaeffer, Andrew Clayphan, Jon R. Iredell, Sally R. Partridge, Enrico Coiera

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Motivation: Larger than gene structures (LGS) are DNA segments that include at least one gene and often other segments such as inverted repeats and gene promoters. Mobile genetic elements (MGE) such as integrons are LGS that play an important role in horizontal gene transfer, primarily in Gram-negative organisms. Known LGS have a profound effect on organism virulence, antibiotic resistance and other properties of the organism due to the number of genes involved. Expert-compiled grammars have been shown to be an effective computational representation of LGS, well suited to automating annotation, and supporting de novo gene discovery. However, development of LGS grammars by experts is labour intensive and restricted to known LGS. Objectives: This study uses computational grammar inference methods to automate LGS discovery. We compare the ability of six algorithms to infer LGS grammars from DNA sequences annotated with genes and other short sequences. We compared the predictive power of learned grammars against an expert-developed grammar for gene cassette arrays found in Class 1, 2 and 3 integrons, which are modular LGS containing up to 9 of about 240 cassette types. Results: Using a Bayesian generalization algorithm our inferred grammar was able to predict >95% of MGE structures in a corpus of 1760 sequences obtained from Genbank (F-score 75%). Even with 100% noise added to the training and test sets, we obtained an F-score of 68%, indicating that the method is robust and has the potential to predict de novo LGS structures when the underlying gene features are known.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberbtr036
Pages (from-to)791-796
Number of pages6
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes


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