Background: Inference of remote homology between proteins is very challenging and remains a prerogative of an expert. Thus a significant drawback to the use of evolutionary-based protein structure classifications is the difficulty in assigning new proteins to unique positions in the classification scheme with automatic methods. To address this issue, we have developed an algorithm to map protein domains to an existing structural classification scheme and have applied it to the SCOP database.
Results: The general strategy employed by this algorithm is to combine the results of several existing sequence and structure comparison tools applied to a query protein of known structure in order to find the homologs already classified in SCOP database and thus determine classification assignments. The algorithm is able to map domains within newly solved structures to the appropriate SCOP superfamily level with approximately 95% accuracy. Examples of correctly mapped remote homologs are discussed. The algorithm is also capable of identifying potential evolutionary relationships not specified in the SCOP database, thus helping to make it better. The strategy of the mapping algorithm is not limited to SCOP and can be applied to any other evolutionary-based classification scheme as well. SCOPmap is available for download.
Conclusion: The SCOPmap program is useful for assigning domains in newly solved structures to appropriate superfamilies and for identifying evolutionary links between different superfamilies.