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Title: ExpertRNA: A New Framework for RNA Secondary Structure Prediction
Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a fundamental biological molecule that is essential to all living organisms, performing a versatile array of cellular tasks. The function of many RNA molecules is strongly related to the structure it adopts. As a result, great effort is being dedicated to the design of efficient algorithms that solve the “folding problem”—given a sequence of nucleotides, return a probable list of base pairs, referred to as the secondary structure prediction. Early algorithms largely rely on finding the structure with minimum free energy. However, the predictions rely on effective simplified free energy models that may not correctly identify the correct structure as the one with the lowest free energy. In light of this, new, data-driven approaches that not only consider free energy, but also use machine learning techniques to learn motifs are also investigated and recently been shown to outperform free energy–based algorithms on several experimental data sets. In this work, we introduce the new ExpertRNA algorithm that provides a modular framework that can easily incorporate an arbitrary number of rewards (free energy or nonparametric/data driven) and secondary structure prediction algorithms. We argue that this capability of ExpertRNA has the potential to balance out different strengths and weaknesses of state-of-the-art folding tools. We test ExpertRNA on several RNA sequence-structure data sets, and we compare the performance of ExpertRNA against a state-of-the-art folding algorithm. We find that ExpertRNA produces, on average, more accurate predictions of nonpseudoknotted secondary structures than the structure prediction algorithm used, thus validating the promise of the approach. Summary of Contribution: ExpertRNA is a new algorithm inspired by a biological problem. It is applied to solve the problem of secondary structure prediction for RNA molecules given an input sequence. The computational contribution is given by the design of a multibranch, multiexpert rollout algorithm that enables the use of several state-of-the-art approaches as base heuristics and allowing several experts to evaluate partial candidate solutions generated, thus avoiding assuming the reward being optimized by an RNA molecule when folding. Our implementation allows for the effective use of parallel computational resources as well as to control the size of the rollout tree as the algorithm progresses. The problem of RNA secondary structure prediction is of primary importance within the biology field because the molecule structure is strongly related to its functionality. Whereas the contribution of the paper is in the algorithm, the importance of the application makes ExpertRNA a showcase of the relevance of computationally efficient algorithms in supporting scientific discovery.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
INFORMS Journal on Computing
Page Range / eLocation ID:
2464 to 2484
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  2. Abstract

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  3. Abstract Motivation

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    Our source code is available at, and our webserver is at (sequence limit: 100 000nt).

    Supplementary information

    Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

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  4. This data set for the manuscript entitled "Design of Peptides that Fold and Self-Assemble on Graphite" includes all files needed to run and analyze the simulations described in the this manuscript in the molecular dynamics software NAMD, as well as the output of the simulations. The files are organized into directories corresponding to the figures of the main text and supporting information. They include molecular model structure files (NAMD psf or Amber prmtop format), force field parameter files (in CHARMM format), initial atomic coordinates (pdb format), NAMD configuration files, Colvars configuration files, NAMD log files, and NAMD output including restart files (in binary NAMD format) and trajectories in dcd format (downsampled to 10 ns per frame). Analysis is controlled by shell scripts (Bash-compatible) that call VMD Tcl scripts or python scripts. These scripts and their output are also included.

    Version: 2.0

    Changes versus version 1.0 are the addition of the free energy of folding, adsorption, and pairing calculations (Sim_Figure-7) and shifting of the figure numbers to accommodate this addition.

    Conventions Used in These Files

    Structure Files
    - graph_*.psf or sol_*.psf (original NAMD (XPLOR?) format psf file including atom details (type, charge, mass), as well as definitions of bonds, angles, dihedrals, and impropers for each dipeptide.)

    - graph_*.pdb or sol_*.pdb (initial coordinates before equilibration)
    - repart_*.psf (same as the above psf files, but the masses of non-water hydrogen atoms have been repartitioned by VMD script repartitionMass.tcl)
    - freeTop_*.pdb (same as the above pdb files, but the carbons of the lower graphene layer have been placed at a single z value and marked for restraints in NAMD)
    - amber_*.prmtop (combined topology and parameter files for Amber force field simulations)
    - repart_amber_*.prmtop (same as the above prmtop files, but the masses of non-water hydrogen atoms have been repartitioned by ParmEd)

    Force Field Parameters
    CHARMM format parameter files:
    - par_all36m_prot.prm (CHARMM36m FF for proteins)
    - par_all36_cgenff_no_nbfix.prm (CGenFF v4.4 for graphene) The NBFIX parameters are commented out since they are only needed for aromatic halogens and we use only the CG2R61 type for graphene.
    - toppar_water_ions_prot_cgenff.str (CHARMM water and ions with NBFIX parameters needed for protein and CGenFF included and others commented out)

    Template NAMD Configuration Files
    These contain the most commonly used simulation parameters. They are called by the other NAMD configuration files (which are in the namd/ subdirectory):
    - template_min.namd (minimization)
    - template_eq.namd (NPT equilibration with lower graphene fixed)
    - template_abf.namd (for adaptive biasing force)

    - namd/min_*.0.namd

    - namd/eq_*.0.namd

    Adaptive biasing force calculations
    - namd/eabfZRest7_graph_chp1404.0.namd
    - namd/eabfZRest7_graph_chp1404.1.namd (continuation of eabfZRest7_graph_chp1404.0.namd)

    Log Files
    For each NAMD configuration file given in the last two sections, there is a log file with the same prefix, which gives the text output of NAMD. For instance, the output of namd/eabfZRest7_graph_chp1404.0.namd is eabfZRest7_graph_chp1404.0.log.

    Simulation Output
    The simulation output files (which match the names of the NAMD configuration files) are in the output/ directory. Files with the extensions .coor, .vel, and .xsc are coordinates in NAMD binary format, velocities in NAMD binary format, and extended system information (including cell size) in text format. Files with the extension .dcd give the trajectory of the atomic coorinates over time (and also include system cell information). Due to storage limitations, large DCD files have been omitted or replaced with new DCD files having the prefix stride50_ including only every 50 frames. The time between frames in these files is 50 * 50000 steps/frame * 4 fs/step = 10 ns. The system cell trajectory is also included for the NPT runs are output/eq_*.xst.

    Files with the .sh extension can be found throughout. These usually provide the highest level control for submission of simulations and analysis. Look to these as a guide to what is happening. If there are scripts with step1_*.sh and step2_*.sh, they are intended to be run in order, with step1_*.sh first.


    The directory contents are as follows. The directories Sim_Figure-1 and Sim_Figure-8 include README.txt files that describe the files and naming conventions used throughout this data set.

    Sim_Figure-1: Simulations of N-acetylated C-amidated amino acids (Ac-X-NHMe) at the graphite–water interface.

    Sim_Figure-2: Simulations of different peptide designs (including acyclic, disulfide cyclized, and N-to-C cyclized) at the graphite–water interface.

    Sim_Figure-3: MM-GBSA calculations of different peptide sequences for a folded conformation and 5 misfolded/unfolded conformations.

    Sim_Figure-4: Simulation of four peptide molecules with the sequence cyc(GTGSGTG-GPGG-GCGTGTG-SGPG) at the graphite–water interface at 370 K.

    Sim_Figure-5: Simulation of four peptide molecules with the sequence cyc(GTGSGTG-GPGG-GCGTGTG-SGPG) at the graphite–water interface at 295 K.

    Sim_Figure-5_replica: Temperature replica exchange molecular dynamics simulations for the peptide cyc(GTGSGTG-GPGG-GCGTGTG-SGPG) with 20 replicas for temperatures from 295 to 454 K.

    Sim_Figure-6: Simulation of the peptide molecule cyc(GTGSGTG-GPGG-GCGTGTG-SGPG) in free solution (no graphite).

    Sim_Figure-7: Free energy calculations for folding, adsorption, and pairing for the peptide CHP1404 (sequence: cyc(GTGSGTG-GPGG-GCGTGTG-SGPG)). For folding, we calculate the PMF as function of RMSD by replica-exchange umbrella sampling (in the subdirectory Folding_CHP1404_Graphene/). We make the same calculation in solution, which required 3 seperate replica-exchange umbrella sampling calculations (in the subdirectory Folding_CHP1404_Solution/). Both PMF of RMSD calculations for the scrambled peptide are in Folding_scram1404/. For adsorption, calculation of the PMF for the orientational restraints and the calculation of the PMF along z (the distance between the graphene sheet and the center of mass of the peptide) are in Adsorption_CHP1404/ and Adsorption_scram1404/. The actual calculation of the free energy is done by a shell script ("") in the 1_free_energy/ subsubdirectory. Processing of the PMFs must be done first in the 0_pmf/ subsubdirectory. Finally, files for free energy calculations of pair formation for CHP1404 are found in the Pair/ subdirectory.

    Sim_Figure-8: Simulation of four peptide molecules with the sequence cyc(GTGSGTG-GPGG-GCGTGTG-SGPG) where the peptides are far above the graphene–water interface in the initial configuration.

    Sim_Figure-9: Two replicates of a simulation of nine peptide molecules with the sequence cyc(GTGSGTG-GPGG-GCGTGTG-SGPG) at the graphite–water interface at 370 K.

    Sim_Figure-9_scrambled: Two replicates of a simulation of nine peptide molecules with the control sequence cyc(GGTPTTGGGGGGSGGPSGTGGC) at the graphite–water interface at 370 K.

    Sim_Figure-10: Adaptive biasing for calculation of the free energy of the folded peptide as a function of the angle between its long axis and the zigzag directions of the underlying graphene sheet.


    This material is based upon work supported by the US National Science Foundation under grant no. DMR-1945589. A majority of the computing for this project was performed on the Beocat Research Cluster at Kansas State University, which is funded in part by NSF grants CHE-1726332, CNS-1006860, EPS-1006860, and EPS-0919443. This work used the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE), which is supported by National Science Foundation grant number ACI-1548562, through allocation BIO200030. 
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  5. Abstract The problem of determining which nucleotides of an RNA sequence are paired or unpaired in the secondary structure of an RNA, which we call RNA state inference, can be studied by different machine learning techniques. Successful state inference of RNA sequences can be used to generate auxiliary information for data-directed RNA secondary structure prediction. Typical tools for state inference, such as hidden Markov models, exhibit poor performance in RNA state inference, owing in part to their inability to recognize nonlocal dependencies. Bidirectional long short-term memory (LSTM) neural networks have emerged as a powerful tool that can model global nonlinear sequence dependencies and have achieved state-of-the-art performances on many different classification problems. This paper presents a practical approach to RNA secondary structure inference centered around a deep learning method for state inference. State predictions from a deep bidirectional LSTM are used to generate synthetic SHAPE data that can be incorporated into RNA secondary structure prediction via the Nearest Neighbor Thermodynamic Model (NNTM). This method produces predicted secondary structures for a diverse test set of 16S ribosomal RNA that are, on average, 25 percentage points more accurate than undirected MFE structures. Accuracy is highly dependent on the success of our state inference method, and investigating the global features of our state predictions reveals that accuracy of both our state inference and structure inference methods are highly dependent on the similarity of pairing patterns of the sequence to the training dataset. Availability of a large training dataset is critical to the success of this approach. Code available at . 
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