Background: Proteins show a great variety of 3D conformations, which can be used to infer their evolutionary relationship and to classify them into more general groups; therefore protein structure alignment algorithms are very helpful for protein biologists. However, an accurate alignment algorithm itself may be insufficient for effective discovering of structural relationships among tens of thousands of proteins. Due to the exponentially increasing amount of protein structural data, a fast and accurate structure alignment tool is necessary to access protein classification and protein similarity search; however, the complexity of current alignment algorithms are usually too high to make a fully alignment-based classification and search practical.
Results: We have developed an efficient protein pairwise alignment algorithm and applied it to our protein search tool, which aligns a query protein structure in the pairwise manner with all protein structures in the Protein Data Bank (PDB) to output similar protein structures. The algorithm can align hundreds of pairs of protein structures in one second. Given a protein structure, the tool efficiently discovers similar structures from tens of thousands of structures stored in the PDB always in 2 minutes in a single machine and 20 seconds in our cluster of 6 machines. The algorithm has been fully implemented and is accessible online at our webserver, which is supported by a cluster of computers.
Conclusion: Our algorithm can work out hundreds of pairs of protein alignments in one second. Therefore, it is very suitable for protein search. Our experimental results show that it is more accurate than other well known protein search systems in finding proteins which are structurally similar at SCOP family and superfamily levels, and its speed is also competitive with those systems. In terms of the pairwise alignment performance, it is as good as some well known alignment algorithms.