A model-independent approach to infer hierarchical codon substitution dynamics
Complex Systems Group, Department of Energy and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, 412 96 Göteborg, Sweden
BMC Bioinformatics 2010, 11:201 doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-201Published: 23 April 2010
Codon substitution constitutes a fundamental process in molecular biology that has been studied extensively. However, prior studies rely on various assumptions, e.g. regarding the relevance of specific biochemical properties, or on conservation criteria for defining substitution groups. Ideally, one would instead like to analyze the substitution process in terms of raw dynamics, independently of underlying system specifics. In this paper we propose a method for doing this by identifying groups of codons and amino acids such that these groups imply closed dynamics. The approach relies on recently developed spectral and agglomerative techniques for identifying hierarchical organization in dynamical systems.
We have applied the techniques on an empirically derived Markov model of the codon substitution process that is provided in the literature. Without system specific knowledge of the substitution process, the techniques manage to "blindly" identify multiple levels of dynamics; from amino acid substitutions (via the standard genetic code) to higher order dynamics on the level of amino acid groups. We hypothesize that the acquired groups reflect earlier versions of the genetic code.
The results demonstrate the applicability of the techniques. Due to their generality, we believe that they can be used to coarse grain and identify hierarchical organization in a broad range of other biological systems and processes, such as protein interaction networks, genetic regulatory networks and food webs.