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Genetic Algorithm: Explanation and Perl Code

in Algorithms/Bioinformatics Programming by

When it comes to bioinformatics algorithms, Genetic algorithms top the list of most used and talked about algorithms in bioinformatics. Understanding Genetic algorithm is important not only because it helps you to reduce computational time taken to get result but also because it is inspired by how nature works.

In this article, you will learn how genetic algorithm works, the basic concept behind it and we will also write a program to illustrate the concepts. You can skip the explanation if you already know the basic concepts of Genetic Algorithm

Genetic Algorithm was developed by John Holland. It use the concepts of Natural Selection and Genetic Inheritance and tries to mimic the biological evolution. It falls under the category of algorithms known as Evolutionary Algorithms. It can be used to find solution to the hard problems where we don’t know much about the search space.

Let us understand how genetic algorithm works. For this, let us consider a cancer associated gene expression matrix. This matrix contains all the known genes found in human being and their level of expression.

For a given problem, the genetic algorithm works by maintaining a set of candidate solutions and then applies three operators over them – Selection, Recombination and Mutation, which are collectively known as stochastic operator.

  • Selection: In nature, if an organism is adapted to the environment, its population will grow relative to its quality of adaptation. This is referred to as selection. It means if a solution meets the conditional constraints, it is replicated at a rate which is proportional to the relative quality.
  • Recombination: In nature, two similar chromosomes of the surviving individual exchange genes during sexual reproduction in a process known as Crossing Over. In GA we decompose two distinct solutions and randomly mix their parts to form novel solutions
  • Mutation: Random changes in an existing chromosome may lead to some fitter individual. This concept is utilized to randomly perturbs a candidate solution
1. produce an initial population of individuals
2. evaluate the fitness of all individuals
3. while termination condition not met do
4.    select fitter individuals for reproduction
5.    recombine between individuals
6.    mutate individuals
7.    evaluate the fitness of the modified individuals
8.    generate a new population
9. End while

Have a look at the Genetic Algoithm illustrated in the diagram below to understand it more clearly.
Genetic Algorithm Diagram

The program

We are going to implement the Genetic Algorithm and write a program in Perl for it. Although not purely applicable to a real life problem, but it should be sufficient to familiarize you with Genetic Algorithm.

Suppose that you had a set of Gene expression data. The data is for all 25000 genes in the human genome and you want to find out what are the five values among all 25000 values whose sum can give you the highest number.

For the purpose of this program we will require four subroutines:

  • Generate: It will generate chromosomes containing 5 values(specified in variable $GeneNumberConstraint) selected at random at positions
  • Mutate: It mutates a chromosome at random position with a random value less than specified in $HighestMutationValue
  • Survival Check: It checks if the newly formed chromosome is viable. i.e. It has a value that is upto a minimum specification. (Checking for fitness)
  • Recombine: It will form new combinations from existing chromosome by crossing them over with each other.

The Code

If you wish, you can download the Perl code on GitHub

So here is the final code implementing Genetic Algorithm in Perl:

# Written by Tariq Abdullah
# Author, Bioinformatics Review
# [email protected]


@GeneExpressionData = (1,3,8,5,2,4,46,6,78,7,9,9
@SolutionSpace = ();
$HighestMutationValue = 110;
$GeneNumberConstraint = 5;
$InitialThreshold  = 10;
$genes	= scalar @GeneExpressionData;
@chromosome = ();
 $sum = 0;
$steps= 10;

print "The Total Genes are: $genes\n";

$steps = 10;


print "\n\n Genetic Algorithm Result
\n\n\n\t\tHighest Detected: $CurrentHighest in $steps Steps\n\n";

sub mutate{
 $randpos = int(rand($gene));
 $n = int(rand($HighestMutationValue));
 $chromosome[$randpos] = $n;
 print "\n Mutation Took Place in Chromosome @chromosome ";

sub recombine
  print "\nRecombining\n\n";
  @chromosome1 = $SolutionSpace[int rand($p)];
  @chromosome2 =  $SolutionSpace[int rand($p)];
  print "Random Sequence Chromosome from Solution Space: @chromosome1 and @chromosome2";
  for($i=0; $i<=$GeneNumberConstraint/2; $i++){
	 my $random_number = int(rand(3)) + 1;
	 $pos1 = int(rand($GeneNumberConstraint));
  	 $pos1 = int(rand($GeneNumberConstraint));
	 $swap = $chromosome1[$pos1];
	 $chromosome1[$pos1] = $chromosome2[$pos2];
	 $chromosome2[$pos2] = $swap;	
 print "The Recombination led to @chromosome";
 @chromosome = ();
 @chromosome = @chromosome1;

sub SurvivalCheck{	
 $sum = 0;
 foreach $val (@chromosome){
		$sum += $val;

   $CurrentHighest = $sum;
   push @SolutionSpace, @chromosome;
   print "\nIndividual is alive! \nCurrent Highest Expression: $CurrentHighest";		return 1;

  print "\nSpecies Didn't Survive! \n"; 
  return 0;

sub generate{
 @chromosome = ();
  $n = int(rand($genes));
  push @chromosome, $GeneExpressionData[$n];
  $sum += $GeneExpressionData[$n];		
 print "\n\n\nGenerated Chromosome: @chromosome \n";

Thats all! Feel free to comment and discuss if you have any confusion. Like this article? Share it.. ha?

T-Coffee : A tool that combines both local and global alignments

in Algorithms/Tools by

T-Coffee is a multiple sequence alignment tool which stands for Tree-based Consistency Objective Function for alignment Evaluation. It is a simultaneous alignment which combines the best properties of local and global alignment and for this it also uses the Smith-Waterman algorithm. T-Coffee is an advancement over other multiple alignment tools such as ClustalW, MUSCLE (discussed about in earlier article), etc.

Its main features include, first, it provides the multiple alignments using various data sources which is the library of pairwise alignments(global + local). Second main feature is the optimization method which provides the multiple alignment that best fits in the input library.


Fig.1 Layout of the T-Coffee strategy; the main steps required to compute a multiple sequence alignment  using the T-Coffee method. Square blocks designate procedures while rounded blocks indicate data structures.

How T-Coffee works?

  1. Generate Primary library of alignments:
    It consists of a set of pairwise alignments of all of the sequences to be aligned (here the alignment source is local). It may also include two or more different alignments of the same pair of sequences. Then the global alignment is done using ClustalW .
  2. Derive primary library weights:
    The most reliable residue pair is obtained in this step using a weighted scheme. In this, a weight is assigned to each pair of aligned residues in the library. Here, sequence identity is the criteria to measure accuracy with more than 30 % identity. For each set of sequences, two libraries are constructed along with their weights, one using ClustaW and other using Lalign (program of FASTA package).
  3. Combine Libraries:
    In this step, all the duplicated pairs are merged into a single entry that has a weight equal to the sum of two weights, or a new entry is created for the pair being considered.
  4. Extend library:
    A triplet approach involving intermediate-sequence method is used. For example, we have 4 sequences, A,B,C & D, it aligns A-B and  with C and D as well and checks for the alignment.
  5. Progressive alignment strategy:
    In this alignment strategy, a distance matrix is constructed using pairwise alignments between all the sequences, with the help of which a guide tree is constructed using Neighbor Joining (NJ) method (a method that first aligns the two closest sequences), the obtained pair of sequences are checked for gaps,again the next closest two sequences. This continue until all the sequences have been aligned.

    Fig.2  The library extension. (a) Progressive alignment. Four sequences have been designed. The tree indicates
    the order in which the sequences are aligned when using a progressive method such as ClustalW. The resulting alignment is shown, with the word CAT misaligned. (b) Primary library. Each pair of sequences is aligned using ClustalW. In these alignments, each pair of aligned residues is associated with a weight equal to the average identity among matched residues within the complete alignment (mismatches are indicated in bold type). (c) Library extension for a pair of sequences. The three possible alignments of sequence A and B are shown (A and B, A and B through C, A and B through D). These alignments are combined, as explained in the text, to produce the position-speci®c library. This library is resolved by dynamic programming to give the correct alignment. The thickness of the lines indicates the strength of the weight.


An exhaustive list of references for this article is available with the author and is available on personal request, for more details write to [email protected]

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