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This article is part of the supplement: Selected proceedings from the Automated Function Prediction Meeting 2011

Open Access Proceedings

Protein Function Prediction using Text-based Features extracted from the Biomedical Literature: The CAFA Challenge

Andrew Wong1 and Hagit Shatkay123*

Author Affiliations

1 Computational Biology and Machine Learning Lab, School of Computing, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, K7L 3N6, Canada

2 Dept. of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, 19716, US

3 Delaware Biotechnology Institute, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, 19711, US

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14(Suppl 3):S14  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-S3-S14

Published: 28 February 2013



Advances in sequencing technology over the past decade have resulted in an abundance of sequenced proteins whose function is yet unknown. As such, computational systems that can automatically predict and annotate protein function are in demand. Most computational systems use features derived from protein sequence or protein structure to predict function. In an earlier work, we demonstrated the utility of biomedical literature as a source of text features for predicting protein subcellular location. We have also shown that the combination of text-based and sequence-based prediction improves the performance of location predictors. Following up on this work, for the Critical Assessment of Function Annotations (CAFA) Challenge, we developed a text-based system that aims to predict molecular function and biological process (using Gene Ontology terms) for unannotated proteins. In this paper, we present the preliminary work and evaluation that we performed for our system, as part of the CAFA challenge.


We have developed a preliminary system that represents proteins using text-based features and predicts protein function using a k-nearest neighbour classifier (Text-KNN). We selected text features for our classifier by extracting key terms from biomedical abstracts based on their statistical properties. The system was trained and tested using 5-fold cross-validation over a dataset of 36,536 proteins. System performance was measured using the standard measures of precision, recall, F-measure and overall accuracy. The performance of our system was compared to two baseline classifiers: one that assigns function based solely on the prior distribution of protein function (Base-Prior) and one that assigns function based on sequence similarity (Base-Seq). The overall prediction accuracy of Text-KNN, Base-Prior, and Base-Seq for molecular function classes are 62%, 43%, and 58% while the overall accuracy for biological process classes are 17%, 11%, and 28% respectively. Results obtained as part of the CAFA evaluation itself on the CAFA dataset are reported as well.


Our evaluation shows that the text-based classifier consistently outperforms the baseline classifier that is based on prior distribution, and typically has comparable performance to the baseline classifier that uses sequence similarity. Moreover, the results suggest that combining text features with other types of features can potentially lead to improved prediction performance. The preliminary results also suggest that while our text-based classifier can be used to predict both molecular function and biological process in which a protein is involved, the classifier performs significantly better for predicting molecular function than for predicting biological process. A similar trend was observed for other classifiers participating in the CAFA challenge.