Predicting site-specific human selective pressure using evolutionary signatures

School of Computer Science, McGill University, 3630 University, Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 2B2.
Bioinformatics (Impact Factor: 4.62). 07/2011; 27(13):i266-74. DOI: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btr241
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The identification of non-coding functional regions of the human genome remains one of the main challenges of genomics. By observing how a given region evolved over time, one can detect signs of negative or positive selection hinting that the region may be functional. With the quickly increasing number of vertebrate genomes to compare with our own, this type of approach is set to become extremely powerful, provided the right analytical tools are available.
A large number of approaches have been proposed to measure signs of past selective pressure, usually in the form of reduced mutation rate. Here, we propose a radically different approach to the detection of non-coding functional region: instead of measuring past evolutionary rates, we build a machine learning classifier to predict current substitution rates in human based on the inferred evolutionary events that affected the region during vertebrate evolution. We show that different types of evolutionary events, occurring along different branches of the phylogenetic tree, bring very different amounts of information. We propose a number of simple machine learning classifiers and show that a Support-Vector Machine (SVM) predictor clearly outperforms existing tools at predicting human non-coding functional sites. Comparison to external evidences of selection and regulatory function confirms that these SVM predictions are more accurate than those of other approaches.
The predictor and predictions made are available at

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