Rapid and sensitive sequence comparison with FASTP and FASTA

Methods Enzymol. 1990;183:63-98. doi: 10.1016/0076-6879(90)83007-v.


The FASTA program can search the NBRF protein sequence library (2.5 million residues) in less than 20 min on an IBM-PC microcomputer and unambiguously detect proteins that shared a common ancestor billions of years in the past. FASTA is both fast and selective because it initially considers only amino acid identities. Its sensitivity is increased not only by using the PAM250 matrix to score and rescore regions with large numbers of identities but also by joining initial regions. The results of searches with FASTA compare favorably with results using NWS-based programs that are 100 times slower. FASTA is slightly less sensitive but considerably more selective. It is not clear that NWS-based programs would be more successful in finding distantly related members of the G-protein-coupled receptor family. The joining step by FASTA to calculate the initn score is especially useful for sequences that share regions of sequence similarity that are separated by variable-length loops. FASTP and FASTA were designed to identify protein sequences that have descended from a common ancestor, and they have proved very useful for this task. In many cases, a FASTA sequence search will result in a list of high scoring library sequences that are homologous to the query sequence, or the search will result in a list of sequences with similarity scores that cannot be distinguished from the bulk of the library. In either case, the question of whether there are sequences in the library that are clearly related to the query sequence has been answered unambiguously. Unfortunately, the results often will not be so clear-cut, and careful analysis of similarity scores, statistical significance, the actual aligned residues, and the biological context are required. In the course of analyzing the G-protein-coupled receptor family, several proteins were found that, because of a high initn score and a low init1 score that increased almost 2-fold with optimization, appeared to be members of this family which were not previously recognized. RDF2 analysis showed borderline z values, and only a careful examination of the sequence alignments that focused on the conserved residues provided convincing evidence that the high scores were fortuitous. As sequence comparison methods become more powerful by becoming more sensitive, they become more likely to mislead, and even greater care is required.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Amino Acid Sequence*
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence*
  • DNA / genetics*
  • Eye Proteins / genetics
  • Gene Library*
  • Information Systems*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Proteins / genetics*
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta / genetics
  • Rod Opsins
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid*
  • Software


  • Eye Proteins
  • Proteins
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta
  • Rod Opsins
  • DNA