Over the past decade, a number of methods have been developed to determine the approximate structure of proteins using minimal NMR experimental information such as chemical shifts alone, sparse NOEs alone or a combination of comparative modeling data and chemical shifts. However, there have been relatively few methods that allow these approximate models to be substantively refined or improved using the available NMR chemical shift data. Here, we present a novel method, called Chemical Shift driven Genetic Algorithm for biased Molecular Dynamics (CS-GAMDy), for the robust optimization of protein structures using experimental NMR chemical shifts. The method incorporates knowledge-based scoring functions and structural information derived from NMR chemical shifts via a unique combination of multi-objective MD biasing, a genetic algorithm, and the widely used XPLOR molecular modelling language. Using this approach, we demonstrate that CS-GAMDy is able to refine and/or fold models that are as much as 10 Å (RMSD) away from the correct structure using only NMR chemical shift data. CS-GAMDy is also able to refine of a wide range of approximate or mildly erroneous protein structures to more closely match the known/correct structure and the known/correct chemical shifts. We believe CS-GAMDy will allow protein models generated by sparse restraint or chemical-shift-only methods to achieve sufficiently high quality to be considered fully refined and "PDB worthy". The CS-GAMDy algorithm is explained in detail and its performance is compared over a range of refinement scenarios with several commonly used protein structure refinement protocols. The program has been designed to be easily installed and easily used and is available at http://www.gamdy.ca.
Keywords: Accuracy; Chemical shifts; NMR; Protein; Structure.