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GenePainter: a fast tool for aligning gene structures of eukaryotic protein families, visualizing the alignments and mapping gene structures onto protein structures

Björn Hammesfahr1, Florian Odronitz1, Stefanie Mühlhausen1, Stephan Waack2 and Martin Kollmar1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of NMR-based Structural Biology, Max-Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Am Fassberg 11, Göttingen, 37077, Germany

2 Institute of Computer Science, University of Göttingen, Goldschmidtstr. 7, Göttingen, 37077, Germany

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:77  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-77

Published: 4 March 2013

Abstract

Background

All sequenced eukaryotic genomes have been shown to possess at least a few introns. This includes those unicellular organisms, which were previously suspected to be intron-less. Therefore, gene splicing must have been present at least in the last common ancestor of the eukaryotes. To explain the evolution of introns, basically two mutually exclusive concepts have been developed. The introns-early hypothesis says that already the very first protein-coding genes contained introns while the introns-late concept asserts that eukaryotic genes gained introns only after the emergence of the eukaryotic lineage. A very important aspect in this respect is the conservation of intron positions within homologous genes of different taxa.

Results

GenePainter is a standalone application for mapping gene structure information onto protein multiple sequence alignments. Based on the multiple sequence alignments the gene structures are aligned down to single nucleotides. GenePainter accounts for variable lengths in exons and introns, respects split codons at intron junctions and is able to handle sequencing and assembly errors, which are possible reasons for frame-shifts in exons and gaps in genome assemblies. Thus, even gene structures of considerably divergent proteins can properly be compared, as it is needed in phylogenetic analyses. Conserved intron positions can also be mapped to user-provided protein structures. For their visualization GenePainter provides scripts for the molecular graphics system PyMol.

Conclusions

GenePainter is a tool to analyse gene structure conservation providing various visualization options. A stable version of GenePainter for all operating systems as well as documentation and example data are available at http://www.motorprotein.de/genepainter.html webcite.

Keywords:
Exon; Intron; Gene structure; Evolution