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This article is part of the supplement: Proceedings of the Fifth Annual MCBIOS Conference. Systems Biology: Bridging the Omics

Open Access Proceedings

Time-dependent ARMA modeling of genomic sequences

Jerzy S Zielinski1*, Nidhal Bouaynaya1*, Dan Schonfeld2 and William O'Neill3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Systems Engineering, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, AR, USA

2 Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

3 Department of Bioengineering, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2008, 9(Suppl 9):S14  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-9-S9-S14

Published: 12 August 2008



Over the past decade, many investigators have used sophisticated time series tools for the analysis of genomic sequences. Specifically, the correlation of the nucleotide chain has been studied by examining the properties of the power spectrum. The main limitation of the power spectrum is that it is restricted to stationary time series. However, it has been observed over the past decade that genomic sequences exhibit non-stationary statistical behavior. Standard statistical tests have been used to verify that the genomic sequences are indeed not stationary. More recent analysis of genomic data has relied on time-varying power spectral methods to capture the statistical characteristics of genomic sequences. Techniques such as the evolutionary spectrum and evolutionary periodogram have been successful in extracting the time-varying correlation structure. The main difficulty in using time-varying spectral methods is that they are extremely unstable. Large deviations in the correlation structure results from very minor perturbations in the genomic data and experimental procedure. A fundamental new approach is needed in order to provide a stable platform for the non-stationary statistical analysis of genomic sequences.


In this paper, we propose to model non-stationary genomic sequences by a time-dependent autoregressive moving average (TD-ARMA) process. The model is based on a classical ARMA process whose coefficients are allowed to vary with time. A series expansion of the time-varying coefficients is used to form a generalized Yule-Walker-type system of equations. A recursive least-squares algorithm is subsequently used to estimate the time-dependent coefficients of the model. The non-stationary parameters estimated are used as a basis for statistical inference and biophysical interpretation of genomic data. In particular, we rely on the TD-ARMA model of genomic sequences to investigate the statistical properties and differentiate between coding and non-coding regions in the nucleotide chain. Specifically, we define a quantitative measure of randomness to assess how far a process deviates from white noise. Our simulation results on various gene sequences show that both the coding and non-coding regions are non-random. However, coding sequences are "whiter" than non-coding sequences as attested by a higher index of randomness.


We demonstrate that the proposed TD-ARMA model can be used to provide a stable time series tool for the analysis of non-stationary genomic sequences. The estimated time-varying coefficients are used to define an index of randomness, in order to assess the statistical correlations in coding and non-coding DNA sequences. It turns out that the statistical differences between coding and non-coding sequences are more subtle than previously thought using stationary analysis tools: Both coding and non-coding sequences exhibit statistical correlations, with the coding regions being "whiter" than the non-coding regions. These results corroborate the evolutionary periodogram analysis of genomic sequences and revoke the stationary analysis' conclusion that coding DNA behaves like random sequences.