OCCAM: prediction of small ORFs in bacterial genomes by means of a target-decoy database approach and machine learning techniques

Database (Oxford). 2020 Jan 1;2020:baaa067. doi: 10.1093/database/baaa067.


Small open reading frames (ORFs) have been systematically disregarded by automatic genome annotation. The difficulty in finding patterns in tiny sequences is the main reason that makes small ORFs to be overlooked by computational procedures. However, advances in experimental methods show that small proteins can play vital roles in cellular activities. Hence, it is urgent to make progress in the development of computational approaches to speed up the identification of potential small ORFs. In this work, our focus is on bacterial genomes. We improve a previous approach to identify small ORFs in bacteria. Our method uses machine learning techniques and decoy subject sequences to filter out spurious ORF alignments. We show that an advanced multivariate analysis can be more effective in terms of sensitivity than applying the simplistic and widely used e-value cutoff. This is particularly important in the case of small ORFs for which alignments present higher e-values than usual. Experiments with control datasets show that the machine learning algorithms used in our method to curate significant alignments can achieve average sensitivity and specificity of 97.06% and 99.61%, respectively. Therefore, an important step is provided here toward the construction of more accurate computational tools for the identification of small ORFs in bacteria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Genome, Bacterial* / genetics
  • Machine Learning*
  • Open Reading Frames / genetics
  • Proteins


  • Proteins