Accurate plant pathogen effector protein classification ab initio with deepredeff, an ensemble of convolutional neural networks


Plant pathogens cause billions of dollars of crop loss every year and are a major threat to global food security. Effector proteins are the tools such pathogens use to infect the cell, predicting effectors de novo from sequence is difficult because of the heterogeneity of the sequences. We hypothesised that deep learning classifiers based on Convolutional Neural Networks would be able to identify effectors and deliver new insights. We built a training set of manually curated effector sequences from PHI-Base and used these to train a range of model architectures for classifying bacteria, fungal and oomycete sequences. The best performing classifiers had accuracies from 93 % to 84 %. The models were tested against popular effector detection software on our own test data and data provided with those models. We observed better performance from our models. Specifically our models showed greater accuracy and lower tendencies to call false positives on a secreted protein negative test set and a greater generalisability. We used GRAD-CAM activation map analysis to identify the sequences that activated our CNN-LSTM models and found short but distinct N-terminal regions in each taxon that was indicative of effector sequences. No motifs could be observed in these regions but an analysis of amino acid types indicated differing patterns of enrichment and depletion that varied between taxa. We have produced an R package that will allow others to make easy effector predictions using our models.

Ruth Kristianingsih
Ruth Kristianingsih
Computational Biologist and Mathematician

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