KnotAli: Informed energy minimization through the use of evolutionary information




Gray, Mateo
Chester, Sean
Jabbari, Hosna

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BMC Bioinformatics


Background: Improving the prediction of structures, especially those containing pseudoknots (structures with crossing base pairs) is an ongoing challenge. Homology-based methods utilize structural similarities within a family to predict the structure. However, their prediction is limited to the consensus structure, and by the quality of the alignment. Minimum free energy (MFE) based methods, on the other hand, do not rely on familial information and can predict structures of novel RNA molecules. Their prediction normally suffers from inaccuracies due to their underlying energy parameters. Results: We present a new method for prediction of RNA pseudoknotted secondary structures that combines the strengths of MFE prediction and alignment-based methods. KnotAli takes a multiple RNA sequence alignment as input and uses covariation and thermodynamic energy minimization to predict possibly pseudoknotted secondary structures for each individual sequence in the alignment. We compared KnotAli’s performance to that of three other alignment-based programs, two that can handle pseudoknotted structures and one control, on a large data set of 3034 RNA sequences with varying lengths and levels of sequence conservation from 10 families with pseudoknotted and pseudoknot-free reference structures. We produced sequence alignments for each family using two well-known sequence aligners (MUSCLE and MAFFT). Conclusions: We found KnotAli’s performance to be superior in 6 of the 10 families for MUSCLE and 7 of the 10 for MAFFT. While both KnotAli and Cacofold use background noise correction strategies, we found KnotAli’s predictions to be less dependent on the alignment quality. KnotAli can be found online at the Zenodo image: https://



RNA secondary structure, MFE, Pseudoknot, Sequence alignment, Covariation, Thermodynamic energy minimization


Gray, M., Chester, S., & Jabbari, H. (2022). “KnotAli: Informed energy minimization through the use of evolutionary information.” BMC Bioinformatics, 23(159).