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1.  Adjusting scoring matrices to correct overextended alignments 
Bioinformatics  2013;29(23):3007-3013.
Motivation: Sequence similarity searches performed with BLAST, SSEARCH and FASTA achieve high sensitivity by using scoring matrices (e.g. BLOSUM62) that target low identity (<33%) alignments. Although such scoring matrices can effectively identify distant homologs, they can also produce local alignments that extend beyond the homologous regions.
Results: We measured local alignment start/stop boundary accuracy using a set of queries where the correct alignment boundaries were known, and found that 7% of BLASTP and 8% of SSEARCH alignment boundaries were overextended. Overextended alignments include non-homologous sequences; they occur most frequently between sequences that are more closely related (>33% identity). Adjusting the scoring matrix to reflect the identity of the homologous sequence can correct higher identity overextended alignment boundaries. In addition, the scoring matrix that produced a correct alignment could be reliably predicted based on the sequence identity seen in the original BLOSUM62 alignment. Realigning with the predicted scoring matrix corrected 37% of all overextended alignments, resulting in more correct alignments than using BLOSUM62 alone.
Availability: RefProtDom2 (RPD2) sequences and the FASTA software are available from
PMCID: PMC3834790  PMID: 23995390
2.  YAHA: fast and flexible long-read alignment with optimal breakpoint detection 
Bioinformatics  2012;28(19):2417-2424.
Motivation: With improved short-read assembly algorithms and the recent development of long-read sequencers, split mapping will soon be the preferred method for structural variant (SV) detection. Yet, current alignment tools are not well suited for this.
Results: We present YAHA, a fast and flexible hash-based aligner. YAHA is as fast and accurate as BWA-SW at finding the single best alignment per query and is dramatically faster and more sensitive than both SSAHA2 and MegaBLAST at finding all possible alignments. Unlike other aligners that report all, or one, alignment per query, or that use simple heuristics to select alignments, YAHA uses a directed acyclic graph to find the optimal set of alignments that cover a query using a biologically relevant breakpoint penalty. YAHA can also report multiple mappings per defined segment of the query. We show that YAHA detects more breakpoints in less time than BWA-SW across all SV classes, and especially excels at complex SVs comprising multiple breakpoints.
Availability: YAHA is currently supported on 64-bit Linux systems. Binaries and sample data are freely available for download from
PMCID: PMC3463118  PMID: 22829624
3.  Improving the Alignment Quality of Consistency Based Aligners with an Evaluation Function Using Synonymous Protein Words 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e27872.
Most sequence alignment tools can successfully align protein sequences with higher levels of sequence identity. The accuracy of corresponding structure alignment, however, decreases rapidly when considering distantly related sequences (<20% identity). In this range of identity, alignments optimized so as to maximize sequence similarity are often inaccurate from a structural point of view. Over the last two decades, most multiple protein aligners have been optimized for their capacity to reproduce structure-based alignments while using sequence information. Methods currently available differ essentially in the similarity measurement between aligned residues using substitution matrices, Fourier transform, sophisticated profile-profile functions, or consistency-based approaches, more recently.
In this paper, we present a flexible similarity measure for residue pairs to improve the quality of protein sequence alignment. Our approach, called SymAlign, relies on the identification of conserved words found across a sizeable fraction of the considered dataset, and supported by evolutionary analysis. These words are then used to define a position specific substitution matrix that better reflects the biological significance of local similarity. The experiment results show that the SymAlign scoring scheme can be incorporated within T-Coffee to improve sequence alignment accuracy. We also demonstrate that SymAlign is less sensitive to the presence of structurally non-similar proteins. In the analysis of the relationship between sequence identity and structure similarity, SymAlign can better differentiate structurally similar proteins from non- similar proteins.
We show that protein sequence alignments can be significantly improved using a similarity estimation based on weighted n-grams. In our analysis of the alignments thus produced, sequence conservation becomes a better indicator of structural similarity. SymAlign also provides alignment visualization that can display sub-optimal alignments on dot-matrices. The visualization makes it easy to identify well-supported alternative alignments that may not have been identified by dynamic programming. SymAlign is available at
PMCID: PMC3229492  PMID: 22163274
4.  Globally, unrelated protein sequences appear random 
Bioinformatics  2009;26(3):310-318.
Motivation: To test whether protein folding constraints and secondary structure sequence preferences significantly reduce the space of amino acid words in proteins, we compared the frequencies of four- and five-amino acid word clumps (independent words) in proteins to the frequencies predicted by four random sequence models.
Results: While the human proteome has many overrepresented word clumps, these words come from large protein families with biased compositions (e.g. Zn-fingers). In contrast, in a non-redundant sample of Pfam-AB, only 1% of four-amino acid word clumps (4.7% of 5mer words) are 2-fold overrepresented compared with our simplest random model [MC(0)], and 0.1% (4mers) to 0.5% (5mers) are 2-fold overrepresented compared with a window-shuffled random model. Using a false discovery rate q-value analysis, the number of exceptional four- or five-letter words in real proteins is similar to the number found when comparing words from one random model to another. Consensus overrepresented words are not enriched in conserved regions of proteins, but four-letter words are enriched 1.18- to 1.56-fold in α-helical secondary structures (but not β-strands). Five-residue consensus exceptional words are enriched for α-helix 1.43- to 1.61-fold. Protein word preferences in regular secondary structure do not appear to significantly restrict the use of sequence words in unrelated proteins, although the consensus exceptional words have a secondary structure bias for α-helix. Globally, words in protein sequences appear to be under very few constraints; for the most part, they appear to be random.
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC2852211  PMID: 19948773
5.  PSI-Search: iterative HOE-reduced profile SSEARCH searching 
Bioinformatics  2012;28(12):1650-1651.
Summary: Iterative similarity searches with PSI-BLAST position-specific score matrices (PSSMs) find many more homologs than single searches, but PSSMs can be contaminated when homologous alignments are extended into unrelated protein domains—homologous over-extension (HOE). PSI-Search combines an optimal Smith–Waterman local alignment sequence search, using SSEARCH, with the PSI-BLAST profile construction strategy. An optional sequence boundary-masking procedure, which prevents alignments from being extended after they are initially included, can reduce HOE errors in the PSSM profile. Preventing HOE improves selectivity for both PSI-BLAST and PSI-Search, but PSI-Search has ~4-fold better selectivity than PSI-BLAST and similar sensitivity at 50% and 60% family coverage. PSI-Search is also produces 2- for 4-fold fewer false-positives than JackHMMER, but is ~5% less sensitive.
Availability and implementation: PSI-Search is available from the authors as a standalone implementation written in Perl for Linux-compatible platforms. It is also available through a web interface ( and SOAP and REST Web Services (
PMCID: PMC3371869  PMID: 22539666
6.  Optimal contact map alignment of protein–protein interfaces 
Bioinformatics  2008;24(20):2324-2328.
The long-standing problem of constructing protein structure alignments is of central importance in computational biology. The main goal is to provide an alignment of residue correspondences, in order to identify homologous residues across chains. A critical next step of this is the alignment of protein complexes and their interfaces. Here, we introduce the program CMAPi, a two-dimensional dynamic programming algorithm that, given a pair of protein complexes, optimally aligns the contact maps of their interfaces: it produces polynomial-time near-optimal alignments in the case of multiple complexes. We demonstrate the efficacy of our algorithm on complexes from PPI families listed in the SCOPPI database and from highly divergent cytokine families. In comparison to existing techniques, CMAPi generates more accurate alignments of interacting residues within families of interacting proteins, especially for sequences with low similarity. While previous methods that use an all-atom based representation of the interface have been successful, CMAPi's use of a contact map representation allows it to be more tolerant to conformational changes and thus to align more of the interaction surface. These improved interface alignments should enhance homology modeling and threading methods for predicting PPIs by providing a basis for generating template profiles for sequence–structure alignment.
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at
PMCID: PMC2562013  PMID: 18710876
7.  Improving pairwise sequence alignment accuracy using near-optimal protein sequence alignments 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:146.
While the pairwise alignments produced by sequence similarity searches are a powerful tool for identifying homologous proteins - proteins that share a common ancestor and a similar structure; pairwise sequence alignments often fail to represent accurately the structural alignments inferred from three-dimensional coordinates. Since sequence alignment algorithms produce optimal alignments, the best structural alignments must reflect suboptimal sequence alignment scores. Thus, we have examined a range of suboptimal sequence alignments and a range of scoring parameters to understand better which sequence alignments are likely to be more structurally accurate.
We compared near-optimal protein sequence alignments produced by the Zuker algorithm and a set of probabilistic alignments produced by the probA program with structural alignments produced by four different structure alignment algorithms. There is significant overlap between the solution spaces of structural alignments and both the near-optimal sequence alignments produced by commonly used scoring parameters for sequences that share significant sequence similarity (E-values < 10-5) and the ensemble of probA alignments. We constructed a logistic regression model incorporating three input variables derived from sets of near-optimal alignments: robustness, edge frequency, and maximum bits-per-position. A ROC analysis shows that this model more accurately classifies amino acid pairs (edges in the alignment path graph) according to the likelihood of appearance in structural alignments than the robustness score alone. We investigated various trimming protocols for removing incorrect edges from the optimal sequence alignment; the most effective protocol is to remove matches from the semi-global optimal alignment that are outside the boundaries of the local alignment, although trimming according to the model-generated probabilities achieves a similar level of improvement. The model can also be used to generate novel alignments by using the probabilities in lieu of a scoring matrix. These alignments are typically better than the optimal sequence alignment, and include novel correct structural edges. We find that the probA alignments sample a larger variety of alignments than the Zuker set, which more frequently results in alignments that are closer to the structural alignments, but that using the probA alignments as input to the regression model does not increase performance.
The pool of suboptimal pairwise protein sequence alignments substantially overlaps structure-based alignments for pairs with statistically significant similarity, and a regression model based on information contained in this alignment pool improves the accuracy of pairwise alignments with respect to structure-based alignments.
PMCID: PMC2850363  PMID: 20307279
8.  CRP: Cleavage of Radiolabeled Phosphoproteins 
Nucleic Acids Research  2003;31(13):3859-3861.
The CRP (Cleavage of Radiolabeled Phosphoproteins) program guides the design and interpretation of experiments to identify protein phosphorylation sites by Edman sequencing of unseparated peptides. Traditionally, phosphorylation sites are determined by cleaving the phosphoprotein and separating the peptides for Edman 32P-phosphate release sequencing. CRP analysis of a phosphoprotein's sequence accelerates this process by omitting the separation step: given a protein sequence of interest, the CRP program performs an in silico proteolytic cleavage of the sequence and reports the predicted Edman cycles in which radioactivity would be observed if a given serine, threonine or tyrosine were phosphorylated. Experimentally observed cycles containing 32P can be compared with CRP predictions to confirm candidate sites and/or explore the ability of additional cleavage experiments to resolve remaining ambiguities. To reduce ambiguity, the phosphorylated residue (P-Tyr, P-Ser or P-Thr) can be determined experimentally, and CRP will ignore sites with alternative residues. CRP also provides simple predictions of likely phosphorylation sites using known kinase recognition motifs. The CRP interface is available at
PMCID: PMC168920  PMID: 12824437
9.  PhyLAT: a phylogenetic local alignment tool 
Bioinformatics  2012;28(10):1336-1344.
Motivation: The expansion of DNA sequencing capacity has enabled the sequencing of whole genomes from a number of related species. These genomes can be combined in a multiple alignment that provides useful information about the evolutionary history at each genomic locus. One area in which evolutionary information can productively be exploited is in aligning a new sequence to a database of existing, aligned genomes. However, existing high-throughput alignment tools are not designed to work effectively with multiple genome alignments.
Results: We introduce PhyLAT, the phylogenetic local alignment tool, to compute local alignments of a query sequence against a fixed multiple-genome alignment of closely related species. PhyLAT uses a known phylogenetic tree on the species in the multiple alignment to improve the quality of its computed alignments while also estimating the placement of the query on this tree. It combines a probabilistic approach to alignment with seeding and expansion heuristics to accelerate discovery of significant alignments. We provide evidence, using alignments of human chromosome 22 against a five-species alignment from the UCSC Genome Browser database, that PhyLAT's alignments are more accurate than those of other commonly used programs, including BLAST, POY, MAFFT, MUSCLE and CLUSTAL. PhyLAT also identifies more alignments in coding DNA than does pairwise alignment alone. Finally, our tool determines the evolutionary relationship of query sequences to the database more accurately than do POY, RAxML, EPA or pplacer.
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3465089  PMID: 22492645
10.  SAMBLASTER: fast duplicate marking and structural variant read extraction 
Bioinformatics  2014;30(17):2503-2505.
Motivation: Illumina DNA sequencing is now the predominant source of raw genomic data, and data volumes are growing rapidly. Bioinformatic analysis pipelines are having trouble keeping pace. A common bottleneck in such pipelines is the requirement to read, write, sort and compress large BAM files multiple times.
Results: We present SAMBLASTER, a tool that reduces the number of times such costly operations are performed. SAMBLASTER is designed to mark duplicates in read-sorted SAM files as a piped post-pass on DNA aligner output before it is compressed to BAM. In addition, it can simultaneously output into separate files the discordant read-pairs and/or split-read mappings used for structural variant calling. As an alignment post-pass, its own runtime overhead is negligible, while dramatically reducing overall pipeline complexity and runtime. As a stand-alone duplicate marking tool, it performs significantly better than PICARD or SAMBAMBA in terms of both speed and memory usage, while achieving nearly identical results.
Availability and implementation: SAMBLASTER is open-source C++ code and freely available for download from
PMCID: PMC4147885  PMID: 24812344
11.  Fast Statistical Alignment 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(5):e1000392.
We describe a new program for the alignment of multiple biological sequences that is both statistically motivated and fast enough for problem sizes that arise in practice. Our Fast Statistical Alignment program is based on pair hidden Markov models which approximate an insertion/deletion process on a tree and uses a sequence annealing algorithm to combine the posterior probabilities estimated from these models into a multiple alignment. FSA uses its explicit statistical model to produce multiple alignments which are accompanied by estimates of the alignment accuracy and uncertainty for every column and character of the alignment—previously available only with alignment programs which use computationally-expensive Markov Chain Monte Carlo approaches—yet can align thousands of long sequences. Moreover, FSA utilizes an unsupervised query-specific learning procedure for parameter estimation which leads to improved accuracy on benchmark reference alignments in comparison to existing programs. The centroid alignment approach taken by FSA, in combination with its learning procedure, drastically reduces the amount of false-positive alignment on biological data in comparison to that given by other methods. The FSA program and a companion visualization tool for exploring uncertainty in alignments can be used via a web interface at, and the source code is available at
Author Summary
Biological sequence alignment is one of the fundamental problems in comparative genomics, yet it remains unsolved. Over sixty sequence alignment programs are listed on Wikipedia, and many new programs are published every year. However, many popular programs suffer from pathologies such as aligning unrelated sequences and producing discordant alignments in protein (amino acid) and codon (nucleotide) space, casting doubt on the accuracy of the inferred alignments. Inaccurate alignments can introduce large and unknown systematic biases into downstream analyses such as phylogenetic tree reconstruction and substitution rate estimation. We describe a new program for multiple sequence alignment which can align protein, RNA and DNA sequence and improves on the accuracy of existing approaches on benchmarks of protein and RNA structural alignments and simulated mammalian and fly genomic alignments. Our approach, which seeks to find the alignment which is closest to the truth under our statistical model, leaves unrelated sequences largely unaligned and produces concordant alignments in protein and codon space. It is fast enough for difficult problems such as aligning orthologous genomic regions or aligning hundreds or thousands of proteins. It furthermore has a companion GUI for visualizing the estimated alignment reliability.
PMCID: PMC2684580  PMID: 19478997
12.  DIAL: a web server for the pairwise alignment of two RNA three-dimensional structures using nucleotide, dihedral angle and base-pairing similarities 
Nucleic Acids Research  2007;35(Web Server issue):W659-W668.
DIAL (dihedral alignment) is a web server that provides public access to a new dynamic programming algorithm for pairwise 3D structural alignment of RNA. DIAL achieves quadratic time by performing an alignment that accounts for (i) pseudo-dihedral and/or dihedral angle similarity, (ii) nucleotide sequence similarity and (iii) nucleotide base-pairing similarity.
DIAL provides access to three alignment algorithms: global (Needleman–Wunsch), local (Smith–Waterman) and semiglobal (modified to yield motif search). Suboptimal alignments are optionally returned, and also Boltzmann pair probabilities Pr(ai,bj) for aligned positions ai , bj from the optimal alignment. If a non-zero suboptimal alignment score ratio is entered, then the semiglobal alignment algorithm may be used to detect structurally similar occurrences of a user-specified 3D motif. The query motif may be contiguous in the linear chain or fragmented in a number of noncontiguous regions.
The DIAL web server provides graphical output which allows the user to view, rotate and enlarge the 3D superposition for the optimal (and suboptimal) alignment of query to target. Although graphical output is available for all three algorithms, the semiglobal motif search may be of most interest in attempts to identify RNA motifs. DIAL is available at
PMCID: PMC1933154  PMID: 17567620
13.  CGAT: a comparative genome analysis tool for visualizing alignments in the analysis of complex evolutionary changes between closely related genomes 
BMC Bioinformatics  2006;7:472.
The recent accumulation of closely related genomic sequences provides a valuable resource for the elucidation of the evolutionary histories of various organisms. However, although numerous alignment calculation and visualization tools have been developed to date, the analysis of complex genomic changes, such as large insertions, deletions, inversions, translocations and duplications, still presents certain difficulties.
We have developed a comparative genome analysis tool, named CGAT, which allows detailed comparisons of closely related bacteria-sized genomes mainly through visualizing middle-to-large-scale changes to infer underlying mechanisms. CGAT displays precomputed pairwise genome alignments on both dotplot and alignment viewers with scrolling and zooming functions, and allows users to move along the pre-identified orthologous alignments. Users can place several types of information on this alignment, such as the presence of tandem repeats or interspersed repetitive sequences and changes in G+C contents or codon usage bias, thereby facilitating the interpretation of the observed genomic changes. In addition to displaying precomputed alignments, the viewer can dynamically calculate the alignments between specified regions; this feature is especially useful for examining the alignment boundaries, as these boundaries are often obscure and can vary between programs. Besides the alignment browser functionalities, CGAT also contains an alignment data construction module, which contains various procedures that are commonly used for pre- and post-processing for large-scale alignment calculation, such as the split-and-merge protocol for calculating long alignments, chaining adjacent alignments, and ortholog identification. Indeed, CGAT provides a general framework for the calculation of genome-scale alignments using various existing programs as alignment engines, which allows users to compare the outputs of different alignment programs. Earlier versions of this program have been used successfully in our research to infer the evolutionary history of apparently complex genome changes between closely related eubacteria and archaea.
CGAT is a practical tool for analyzing complex genomic changes between closely related genomes using existing alignment programs and other sequence analysis tools combined with extensive manual inspection.
PMCID: PMC1643837  PMID: 17062155
14.  Identifying and Seeing beyond Multiple Sequence Alignment Errors Using Intra-Molecular Protein Covariation 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(6):e11082.
There is currently no way to verify the quality of a multiple sequence alignment that is independent of the assumptions used to build it. Sequence alignments are typically evaluated by a number of established criteria: sequence conservation, the number of aligned residues, the frequency of gaps, and the probable correct gap placement. Covariation analysis is used to find putatively important residue pairs in a sequence alignment. Different alignments of the same protein family give different results demonstrating that covariation depends on the quality of the sequence alignment. We thus hypothesized that current criteria are insufficient to build alignments for use with covariation analyses.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We show that current criteria are insufficient to build alignments for use with covariation analyses as systematic sequence alignment errors are present even in hand-curated structure-based alignment datasets like those from the Conserved Domain Database. We show that current non-parametric covariation statistics are sensitive to sequence misalignments and that this sensitivity can be used to identify systematic alignment errors. We demonstrate that removing alignment errors due to 1) improper structure alignment, 2) the presence of paralogous sequences, and 3) partial or otherwise erroneous sequences, improves contact prediction by covariation analysis. Finally we describe two non-parametric covariation statistics that are less sensitive to sequence alignment errors than those described previously in the literature.
Protein alignments with errors lead to false positive and false negative conclusions (incorrect assignment of covariation and conservation, respectively). Covariation analysis can provide a verification step, independent of traditional criteria, to identify systematic misalignments in protein alignments. Two non-parametric statistics are shown to be somewhat insensitive to misalignment errors, providing increased confidence in contact prediction when analyzing alignments with erroneous regions because of an emphasis on they emphasize pairwise covariation over group covariation.
PMCID: PMC2893159  PMID: 20596526
15.  HAPLOWSER: a whole-genome haplotype browser for personal genome and metagenome 
Bioinformatics  2009;25(18):2430-2431.
Summary: Haplotype assembly is becoming a very important tool in genome sequencing of human and other organisms. Although haplotypes were previously inferred from genome assemblies, there has never been a comparative haplotype browser that depicts a global picture of whole-genome alignments among haplotypes of different organisms. We introduce a whole-genome HAPLotype brOWSER (HAPLOWSER), providing evolutionary perspectives from multiple aligned haplotypes and functional annotations. Haplowser enables the comparison of haplotypes from metagenomes, and associates conserved regions or the bases at the conserved regions with functional annotations and custom tracks. The associations are quantified for further analysis and presented as pie charts. Functional annotations and custom tracks that are projected onto haplotypes are saved as multiple files in FASTA format. Haplowser provides a user-friendly interface, and can display alignments of haplotypes with functional annotations at any resolution.
Availability: Haplowser, written in Java, supports multiple platforms including Windows and Linux. Haplowser is publicly available at
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at
PMCID: PMC2735662  PMID: 19561337
16.  Protein sequence alignment with family-specific amino acid similarity matrices 
BMC Research Notes  2011;4:296.
Alignment of amino acid sequences by means of dynamic programming is a cornerstone sequence comparison method. The quality of alignments produced by dynamic programming critically depends on the choice of the alignment scoring function. Therefore, for a specific alignment problem one needs a way of selecting the best performing scoring function. This work is focused on the issue of finding optimized protein family- and fold-specific scoring functions for global similarity matrix-based sequence alignment.
I utilize a comprehensive set of reference alignments obtained from structural superposition of homologous and analogous proteins to design a quantitative statistical framework for evaluating the performance of alignment scoring functions in global pairwise sequence alignment. This framework is applied to study how existing general-purpose amino acid similarity matrices perform on individual protein families and structural folds, and to compare them to family-specific and fold-specific matrices derived in this work. I describe an adaptive alignment procedure that automatically selects an appropriate similarity matrix and optimized gap penalties based on the properties of the sequences being aligned.
The results of this work indicate that using family-specific similarity matrices significantly improves the quality of the alignment of homologous sequences over the traditional sequence alignment based on a single general-purpose similarity matrix. However, using fold-specific similarity matrices can only marginally improve sequence alignment of proteins that share the same structural fold but do not share a common evolutionary origin. The family-specific matrices derived in this work and the optimized gap penalties are available at
PMCID: PMC3201029  PMID: 21846354
17.  BEDTools: a flexible suite of utilities for comparing genomic features 
Bioinformatics  2010;26(6):841-842.
Motivation: Testing for correlations between different sets of genomic features is a fundamental task in genomics research. However, searching for overlaps between features with existing web-based methods is complicated by the massive datasets that are routinely produced with current sequencing technologies. Fast and flexible tools are therefore required to ask complex questions of these data in an efficient manner.
Results: This article introduces a new software suite for the comparison, manipulation and annotation of genomic features in Browser Extensible Data (BED) and General Feature Format (GFF) format. BEDTools also supports the comparison of sequence alignments in BAM format to both BED and GFF features. The tools are extremely efficient and allow the user to compare large datasets (e.g. next-generation sequencing data) with both public and custom genome annotation tracks. BEDTools can be combined with one another as well as with standard UNIX commands, thus facilitating routine genomics tasks as well as pipelines that can quickly answer intricate questions of large genomic datasets.
Availability and implementation: BEDTools was written in C++. Source code and a comprehensive user manual are freely available at
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC2832824  PMID: 20110278
18.  SALIGN: a web server for alignment of multiple protein sequences and structures 
Bioinformatics  2012;28(15):2072-2073.
Summary: Accurate alignment of protein sequences and/or structures is crucial for many biological analyses, including functional annotation of proteins, classifying protein sequences into families, and comparative protein structure modeling. Described here is a web interface to SALIGN, the versatile protein multiple sequence/structure alignment module of MODELLER. The web server automatically determines the best alignment procedure based on the inputs, while allowing the user to override default parameter values. Multiple alignments are guided by a dendrogram computed from a matrix of all pairwise alignment scores. When aligning sequences to structures, SALIGN uses structural environment information to place gaps optimally. If two multiple sequence alignments of related proteins are input to the server, a profile–profile alignment is performed. All features of the server have been previously optimized for accuracy, especially in the contexts of comparative modeling and identification of interacting protein partners.
Availability: The SALIGN web server is freely accessible to the academic community at SALIGN is a module of the MODELLER software, also freely available to academic users (
PMCID: PMC3400954  PMID: 22618536
19.  Jalview Version 2—a multiple sequence alignment editor and analysis workbench 
Bioinformatics  2009;25(9):1189-1191.
Summary: Jalview Version 2 is a system for interactive WYSIWYG editing, analysis and annotation of multiple sequence alignments. Core features include keyboard and mouse-based editing, multiple views and alignment overviews, and linked structure display with Jmol. Jalview 2 is available in two forms: a lightweight Java applet for use in web applications, and a powerful desktop application that employs web services for sequence alignment, secondary structure prediction and the retrieval of alignments, sequences, annotation and structures from public databases and any DAS 1.53 compliant sequence or annotation server.
Availability: The Jalview 2 Desktop application and JalviewLite applet are made freely available under the GPL, and can be downloaded from
PMCID: PMC2672624  PMID: 19151095
20.  A Rank-Based Sequence Aligner with Applications in Phylogenetic Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e104006.
Recent tools for aligning short DNA reads have been designed to optimize the trade-off between correctness and speed. This paper introduces a method for assigning a set of short DNA reads to a reference genome, under Local Rank Distance (LRD). The rank-based aligner proposed in this work aims to improve correctness over speed. However, some indexing strategies to speed up the aligner are also investigated. The LRD aligner is improved in terms of speed by storing -mer positions in a hash table for each read. Another improvement, that produces an approximate LRD aligner, is to consider only the positions in the reference that are likely to represent a good positional match of the read. The proposed aligner is evaluated and compared to other state of the art alignment tools in several experiments. A set of experiments are conducted to determine the precision and the recall of the proposed aligner, in the presence of contaminated reads. In another set of experiments, the proposed aligner is used to find the order, the family, or the species of a new (or unknown) organism, given only a set of short Next-Generation Sequencing DNA reads. The empirical results show that the aligner proposed in this work is highly accurate from a biological point of view. Compared to the other evaluated tools, the LRD aligner has the important advantage of being very accurate even for a very low base coverage. Thus, the LRD aligner can be considered as a good alternative to standard alignment tools, especially when the accuracy of the aligner is of high importance. Source code and UNIX binaries of the aligner are freely available for future development and use at The software is implemented in C++ and Java, being supported on UNIX and MS Windows.
PMCID: PMC4136772  PMID: 25133391
21.  Binary Interval Search: a scalable algorithm for counting interval intersections 
Bioinformatics  2012;29(1):1-7.
Motivation: The comparison of diverse genomic datasets is fundamental to understand genome biology. Researchers must explore many large datasets of genome intervals (e.g. genes, sequence alignments) to place their experimental results in a broader context and to make new discoveries. Relationships between genomic datasets are typically measured by identifying intervals that intersect, that is, they overlap and thus share a common genome interval. Given the continued advances in DNA sequencing technologies, efficient methods for measuring statistically significant relationships between many sets of genomic features are crucial for future discovery.
Results: We introduce the Binary Interval Search (BITS) algorithm, a novel and scalable approach to interval set intersection. We demonstrate that BITS outperforms existing methods at counting interval intersections. Moreover, we show that BITS is intrinsically suited to parallel computing architectures, such as graphics processing units by illustrating its utility for efficient Monte Carlo simulations measuring the significance of relationships between sets of genomic intervals.
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3530906  PMID: 23129298
22.  ABC: software for interactive browsing of genomic multiple sequence alignment data 
BMC Bioinformatics  2004;5:192.
Alignment and comparison of related genome sequences is a powerful method to identify regions likely to contain functional elements. Such analyses are data intensive, requiring the inclusion of genomic multiple sequence alignments, sequence annotations, and scores describing regional attributes of columns in the alignment. Visualization and browsing of results can be difficult, and there are currently limited software options for performing this task.
The Application for Browsing Constraints (ABC) is interactive Java software for intuitive and efficient exploration of multiple sequence alignments and data typically associated with alignments. It is used to move quickly from a summary view of the entire alignment via arbitrary levels of resolution to individual alignment columns. It allows for the simultaneous display of quantitative data, (e.g., sequence similarity or evolutionary rates) and annotation data (e.g. the locations of genes, repeats, and constrained elements). It can be used to facilitate basic comparative sequence tasks, such as export of data in plain-text formats, visualization of phylogenetic trees, and generation of alignment summary graphics.
The ABC is a lightweight, stand-alone, and flexible graphical user interface for browsing genomic multiple sequence alignments of specific loci, up to hundreds of kilobases or a few megabases in length. It is coded in Java for cross-platform use and the program and source code are freely available under the General Public License. Documentation and a sample data set are also available .
PMCID: PMC539296  PMID: 15588288
23.  Optimizing a global alignment of protein interaction networks 
Bioinformatics  2013;29(21):2765-2773.
Motivation: The global alignment of protein interaction networks is a widely studied problem. It is an important first step in understanding the relationship between the proteins in different species and identifying functional orthologs. Furthermore, it can provide useful insights into the species’ evolution.
Results: We propose a novel algorithm, PISwap, for optimizing global pairwise alignments of protein interaction networks, based on a local optimization heuristic that has previously demonstrated its effectiveness for a variety of other intractable problems. PISwap can begin with different types of network alignment approaches and then iteratively adjust the initial alignments by incorporating network topology information, trading it off for sequence information. In practice, our algorithm efficiently refines other well-studied alignment techniques with almost no additional time cost. We also show the robustness of the algorithm to noise in protein interaction data. In addition, the flexible nature of this algorithm makes it suitable for different applications of network alignment. This algorithm can yield interesting insights into the evolutionary dynamics of related species.
Availability: Our software is freely available for non-commercial purposes from our Web site,
Contact: or
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3799479  PMID: 24048352
24.  SARSA: a web tool for structural alignment of RNA using a structural alphabet 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(Web Server issue):W19-W24.
SARSA is a web tool that can be used to align two or more RNA tertiary structures. The basic idea behind SARSA is that we use the vector quantization approach to derive a structural alphabet (SA) of 23 nucleotide conformations, via which we transform RNA 3D structures into 1D sequences of SA letters and then utilize classical sequence alignment methods to compare these 1D SA-encoded sequences and determine their structural similarities. In SARSA, we provide two RNA structural alignment tools, PARTS for pairwise alignment of RNA tertiary structures and MARTS for multiple alignment of RNA tertiary structures. Particularly in PARTS, we have implemented four kinds of pairwise alignments for a variety of practical applications: (i) global alignment for comparing whole structural similarity, (ii) semiglobal alignment for detecting structural motifs, (iii) local alignment for finding locally similar substructures and (iv) normalized local alignment for eliminating the mosaic effect of local alignment. Both tools in SARSA take as input RNA 3D structures in the PDB format and in their outputs provide graphical display that allows the user to visually view, rotate and enlarge the superposition of aligned RNA molecules. SARSA is available online at
PMCID: PMC2447761  PMID: 18502774
25.  Evolutionary inaccuracy of pairwise structural alignments 
Bioinformatics  2012;28(9):1209-1215.
Motivation: Structural alignment methods are widely used to generate gold standard alignments for improving multiple sequence alignments and transferring functional annotations, as well as for assigning structural distances between proteins. However, the correctness of the alignments generated by these methods is difficult to assess objectively since little is known about the exact evolutionary history of most proteins. Since homology is an equivalence relation, an upper bound on alignment quality can be found by assessing the consistency of alignments. Measuring the consistency of current methods of structure alignment and determining the causes of inconsistencies can, therefore, provide information on the quality of current methods and suggest possibilities for further improvement.
Results: We analyze the self-consistency of seven widely-used structural alignment methods (SAP, TM-align, Fr-TM-align, MAMMOTH, DALI, CE and FATCAT) on a diverse, non-redundant set of 1863 domains from the SCOP database and demonstrate that even for relatively similar proteins the degree of inconsistency of the alignments on a residue level is high (30%). We further show that levels of consistency vary substantially between methods, with two methods (SAP and Fr-TM-align) producing more consistent alignments than the rest. Inconsistency is found to be higher near gaps and for proteins of low structural complexity, as well as for helices. The ability of the methods to identify good structural alignments is also assessed using geometric measures, for which FATCAT (flexible mode) is found to be the best performer despite being highly inconsistent. We conclude that there is substantial scope for improving the consistency of structural alignment methods.
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
PMCID: PMC3338010  PMID: 22399676

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