Metabolic Pathway Assignment of Plant Genes based on Phylogenetic Profiling–A Feasibility Study
Frontiers in Plant Science
Despite many developed experimental and computational approaches, functional gene annotation remains challenging. With the rapidly growing number of sequenced genomes, the concept of phylogenetic profiling, which predicts functional links between genes that share a common co-occurrence pattern across different genomes, has gained renewed attention as it promises to annotate gene functions based on presence/absence calls alone. We applied phylogenetic profiling to the problem of metabolic
... assignments of plant genes with a particular focus on secondary metabolism pathways. We determined phylogenetic profiles for 40,960 metabolic pathway enzyme genes with assigned EC numbers from 24 plant species based on sequence and pathway annotation data from KEGG and Ensembl Plants. For gene sequence family assignments, needed to determine the presence or absence of particular gene functions in the given plant species, we included data of all 39 species available at the Ensembl Plants database and established gene families based on pairwise sequence identities and annotation information. Aside from performing profiling comparisons, we used machine learning approaches to predict pathway associations from phylogenetic profiles alone. Selected metabolic pathways were indeed found to be composed of gene families of greater than expected phylogenetic profile similarity. This was particularly evident for primary metabolism pathways, whereas for secondary pathways, both the available annotation in different species as well as the abstraction of functional association via distinct pathways proved limiting. While phylogenetic profile similarity was generally not found to correlate with gene co-expression, direct physical interactions of proteins were reflected by a significantly increased profile similarity suggesting an application of phylogenetic profiling methods as a filtering step in the identification of protein-protein interactions. This feasibility study highlights the potential and challenges associated with phylogenetic profiling methods for the detection of functional relationships between genes as well as the need to enlarge the set of plant genes with proven secondary metabolism involvement as well as the limitations of distinct pathways as abstractions of relationships between genes.