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Open Access Research article

A semi-supervised learning approach to predict synthetic genetic interactions by combining functional and topological properties of functional gene network

Zhu-Hong You123, Zheng Yin3, Kyungsook Han4, De-Shuang Huang1* and Xiaobo Zhou3*

Author Affiliations

1 Intelligent Computing Lab, Institute of Intelligent Machine, Chinese Academy of Science, P.O. Box 1130, Hefei, Anhui 230031, China

2 Department of Automation, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, Anhui 230027, China

3 The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, Weil Medical College, Cornell University, Houston, TX 77030, USA

4 School of Computer Science and Engineering, Inha University, Incheon, South Korea

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BMC Bioinformatics 2010, 11:343  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-343

Published: 24 June 2010



Genetic interaction profiles are highly informative and helpful for understanding the functional linkages between genes, and therefore have been extensively exploited for annotating gene functions and dissecting specific pathway structures. However, our understanding is rather limited to the relationship between double concurrent perturbation and various higher level phenotypic changes, e.g. those in cells, tissues or organs. Modifier screens, such as synthetic genetic arrays (SGA) can help us to understand the phenotype caused by combined gene mutations. Unfortunately, exhaustive tests on all possible combined mutations in any genome are vulnerable to combinatorial explosion and are infeasible either technically or financially. Therefore, an accurate computational approach to predict genetic interaction is highly desirable, and such methods have the potential of alleviating the bottleneck on experiment design.


In this work, we introduce a computational systems biology approach for the accurate prediction of pairwise synthetic genetic interactions (SGI). First, a high-coverage and high-precision functional gene network (FGN) is constructed by integrating protein-protein interaction (PPI), protein complex and gene expression data; then, a graph-based semi-supervised learning (SSL) classifier is utilized to identify SGI, where the topological properties of protein pairs in weighted FGN is used as input features of the classifier. We compare the proposed SSL method with the state-of-the-art supervised classifier, the support vector machines (SVM), on a benchmark dataset in S. cerevisiae to validate our method's ability to distinguish synthetic genetic interactions from non-interaction gene pairs. Experimental results show that the proposed method can accurately predict genetic interactions in S. cerevisiae (with a sensitivity of 92% and specificity of 91%). Noticeably, the SSL method is more efficient than SVM, especially for very small training sets and large test sets.


We developed a graph-based SSL classifier for predicting the SGI. The classifier employs topological properties of weighted FGN as input features and simultaneously employs information induced from labelled and unlabelled data. Our analysis indicates that the topological properties of weighted FGN can be employed to accurately predict SGI. Also, the graph-based SSL method outperforms the traditional standard supervised approach, especially when used with small training sets. The proposed method can alleviate experimental burden of exhaustive test and provide a useful guide for the biologist in narrowing down the candidate gene pairs with SGI. The data and source code implementing the method are available from the website: webcite