For many RNA molecules, the secondary structure is essential for the correct function of the RNA. Predicting RNA secondary structure from nucleotide sequences is a long-standing problem in genomics, but the prediction performance has reached a plateau over time. Traditional RNA secondary structure prediction algorithms are primarily based on thermodynamic models through free energy minimization, which imposes strong prior assumptions and is slow to run. Here, we propose a deep learning-based method, called UFold, for RNA secondary structure prediction, trained directly on annotated data and base-pairing rules. UFold proposes a novel image-like representation of RNA sequences, which can be efficiently processed by Fully Convolutional Networks (FCNs). We benchmark the performance of UFold on both within- and cross-family RNA datasets. It significantly outperforms previous methods on within-family datasets, while achieving a similar performance as the traditional methods when trained and tested on distinct RNA families. UFold is also able to predict pseudoknots accurately. Its prediction is fast with an inference time of about 160 ms per sequence up to 1500 bp in length. An online web server running UFold is available at https://ufold.ics.uci.edu. Code is available at https://github.com/uci-cbcl/UFold.
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.