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This article is part of the supplement: International Workshop on Computational Systems Biology: Approaches to Analysis of Genome Complexity and Regulatory Gene Networks

Open Access Research

Transposon identification using profile HMMs

Paul T Edlefsen and Jun S Liu

Author Affiliations

Department of Statistics, Harvard University, One Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA, USA

BMC Genomics 2010, 11(Suppl 1):S10  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-S1-S10

Published: 10 February 2010

Abstract

Background

Transposons are "jumping genes" that account for large quantities of repetitive content in genomes. They are known to affect transcriptional regulation in several different ways, and are implicated in many human diseases. Transposons are related to microRNAs and viruses, and many genes, pseudogenes, and gene promoters are derived from transposons or have origins in transposon-induced duplication. Modeling transposon-derived genomic content is difficult because they are poorly conserved. Profile hidden Markov models (profile HMMs), widely used for protein sequence family modeling, are rarely used for modeling DNA sequence families. The algorithm commonly used to estimate the parameters of profile HMMs, Baum-Welch, is prone to prematurely converge to local optima. The DNA domain is especially problematic for the Baum-Welch algorithm, since it has only four letters as opposed to the twenty residues of the amino acid alphabet.

Results

We demonstrate with a simulation study and with an application to modeling the MIR family of transposons that two recently introduced methods, Conditional Baum-Welch and Dynamic Model Surgery, achieve better estimates of the parameters of profile HMMs across a range of conditions.

Conclusions

We argue that these new algorithms expand the range of potential applications of profile HMMs to many important DNA sequence family modeling problems, including that of searching for and modeling the virus-like transposons that are found in all known genomes.