Inferring gene ontologies from pairwise similarity data

Bioinformatics. 2014 Jun 15;30(12):i34-42. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btu282.


Motivation: While the manually curated Gene Ontology (GO) is widely used, inferring a GO directly from -omics data is a compelling new problem. Recognizing that ontologies are a directed acyclic graph (DAG) of terms and hierarchical relations, algorithms are needed that: analyze a full matrix of gene-gene pairwise similarities from -omics data; infer true hierarchical structure in these data rather than enforcing hierarchy as a computational artifact; and respect biological pleiotropy, by which a term in the hierarchy can relate to multiple higher level terms. Methods addressing these requirements are just beginning to emerge-none has been evaluated for GO inference.

Methods: We consider two algorithms [Clique Extracted Ontology (CliXO), LocalFitness] that uniquely satisfy these requirements, compared with methods including standard clustering. CliXO is a new approach that finds maximal cliques in a network induced by progressive thresholding of a similarity matrix. We evaluate each method's ability to reconstruct the GO biological process ontology from a similarity matrix based on (a) semantic similarities for GO itself or (b) three -omics datasets for yeast.

Results: For task (a) using semantic similarity, CliXO accurately reconstructs GO (>99% precision, recall) and outperforms other approaches (<20% precision, <20% recall). For task (b) using -omics data, CliXO outperforms other methods using two -omics datasets and achieves ∼30% precision and recall using YeastNet v3, similar to an earlier approach (Network Extracted Ontology) and better than LocalFitness or standard clustering (20-25% precision, recall).

Conclusion: This study provides algorithmic foundation for building gene ontologies by capturing hierarchical and pleiotropic structure embedded in biomolecular data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Ontology*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Genomics / methods
  • Semantics
  • Yeasts / genetics