Understanding protein function is one of the keys to understanding life at the molecular level. It is also important in the context of human disease because many conditions arise as a consequence of alterations of protein function. The recent availability of relatively inexpensive sequencing technology has resulted in thousands of complete or partially sequenced genomes with millions of functionally uncharacterized proteins. Such a large volume of data, combined with the lack of high-throughput experimental assays to functionally annotate proteins, attributes to the growing importance of automated function prediction. Here, we study proteins annotated by Gene Ontology (GO) terms and estimate the accuracy of functional transfer from protein sequence only. We find that the transfer of GO terms by pairwise sequence alignments is only moderately accurate, showing a surprisingly small influence of sequence identity (SID) in a broad range (30-100%). We developed and evaluated a new predictor of protein function, functional annotator (FANN), from amino acid sequence. The predictor exploits a multioutput neural network framework which is well suited to simultaneously modeling dependencies between functional terms. Experiments provide evidence that FANN-GO (predictor of GO terms; available from http://www.informatics.indiana.edu/predrag) outperforms standard methods such as transfer by global or local SID as well as GOtcha, a method that incorporates the structure of GO.
Copyright © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.