Computational prediction shines light on type III secretion origins

Sci Rep. 2016 Oct 7;6:34516. doi: 10.1038/srep34516.


Type III secretion system is a key bacterial symbiosis and pathogenicity mechanism responsible for a variety of infectious diseases, ranging from food-borne illnesses to the bubonic plague. In many Gram-negative bacteria, the type III secretion system transports effector proteins into host cells, converting resources to bacterial advantage. Here we introduce a computational method that identifies type III effectors by combining homology-based inference with de novo predictions, reaching up to 3-fold higher performance than existing tools. Our work reveals that signals for recognition and transport of effectors are distributed over the entire protein sequence instead of being confined to the N-terminus, as was previously thought. Our scan of hundreds of prokaryotic genomes identified previously unknown effectors, suggesting that type III secretion may have evolved prior to the archaea/bacteria split. Crucially, our method performs well for short sequence fragments, facilitating evaluation of microbial communities and rapid identification of bacterial pathogenicity - no genome assembly required. pEffect and its data sets are available at

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Proteomics
  • Type III Secretion Systems / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Type III Secretion Systems