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Mol Syst Biol. 2012 May 8;8:581. doi: 10.1038/msb.2012.13.

Prediction and identification of sequences coding for orphan enzymes using genomic and metagenomic neighbours.

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  • 1Structural and Computational Biology Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany.


Despite the current wealth of sequencing data, one-third of all biochemically characterized metabolic enzymes lack a corresponding gene or protein sequence, and as such can be considered orphan enzymes. They represent a major gap between our molecular and biochemical knowledge, and consequently are not amenable to modern systemic analyses. As 555 of these orphan enzymes have metabolic pathway neighbours, we developed a global framework that utilizes the pathway and (meta)genomic neighbour information to assign candidate sequences to orphan enzymes. For 131 orphan enzymes (37% of those for which (meta)genomic neighbours are available), we associate sequences to them using scoring parameters with an estimated accuracy of 70%, implying functional annotation of 16,345 gene sequences in numerous (meta)genomes. As a case in point, two of these candidate sequences were experimentally validated to encode the predicted activity. In addition, we augmented the currently available genome-scale metabolic models with these new sequence-function associations and were able to expand the models by on average 8%, with a considerable change in the flux connectivity patterns and improved essentiality prediction.

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