Entropy and Variability: A Second Opinion by Deep Learning

Biomolecules. 2022 Nov 23;12(12):1740. doi: 10.3390/biom12121740.


Background: Analysis of the distribution of amino acid types found at equivalent positions in multiple sequence alignments has found applications in human genetics, protein engineering, drug design, protein structure prediction, and many other fields. These analyses tend to revolve around measures of the distribution of the twenty amino acid types found at evolutionary equivalent positions: the columns in multiple sequence alignments. Commonly used measures are variability, average hydrophobicity, or Shannon entropy. One of these techniques, called entropy-variability analysis, as the name already suggests, reduces the distribution of observed residue types in one column to two numbers: the Shannon entropy and the variability as defined by the number of residue types observed.

Results: We applied a deep learning, unsupervised feature extraction method to analyse the multiple sequence alignments of all human proteins. An auto-encoder neural architecture was trained on 27,835 multiple sequence alignments for human proteins to obtain the two features that best describe the seven million variability patterns. These two unsupervised learned features strongly resemble entropy and variability, indicating that these are the projections that retain most information when reducing the dimensionality of the information hidden in columns in multiple sequence alignments.

Keywords: FAIR; MSA; Philip Bourne; amino acids; bioinformatics; deep learning; entropy; variability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Amino Acids
  • Deep Learning*
  • Humans
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Referral and Consultation


  • Proteins
  • Amino Acids