Motivation: The extraction of the set of features most relevant to function from classified biological sequence sets is still a challenging problem. A central issue is the determination of expected counts for higher order features so that artifact features may be screened.
Results: Cascade detection (CD), a new algorithm for the extraction of localized features from sequence sets, is introduced. CD is a natural extension of the proportional modeling techniques used in contingency table analysis into the domain of feature detection. The algorithm is successfully tested on synthetic data and then applied to feature detection problems from two different domains to demonstrate its broad utility. An analysis of HIV-1 protease specificity reveals patterns of strong first-order features that group hydrophobic residues by side chain geometry and exhibit substantial symmetry about the cleavage site. Higher order results suggest that favorable cooperativity is weak by comparison and broadly distributed, but indicate possible synergies between negative charge and hydrophobicity in the substrate. Structure–function results for the Schellman loop, a helix-capping motif in proteins, contain strong first-order features and also show statistically significant cooperativities that provide new insights into the design of the motif. These include a new ‘hydrophobic staple’ and multiple amphipathic and electrostatic pair features. CD should prove useful not only for sequence analysis, but also for the detection of multifactor synergies in cross-classified data from clinical studies or other sources.
Availability: Windows XP/7 application and data files available at: https://sites.google.com/site/cascadedetect/home.
Supplementary Information: Supplementary information is available at Bioinformatics online.