Comparative studies of alignment, alignment-free and SVM based approaches for predicting the hosts of viruses based on viral sequences.


Predicting the hosts of newly discovered viruses is important for pandemic surveillance of infectious diseases. We investigated the use of alignment-based and alignment-free methods and support vector machine using mononucleotide frequency and dinucleotide bias to predict the hosts of viruses, and applied these approaches to three datasets: rabies virus, coronavirus, and influenza A virus. For coronavirus, we used the spike gene sequences, while for rabies and influenza A viruses, we used the more conserved nucleoprotein gene sequences. We compared the three methods under different scenarios and showed that their performances are highly correlated with the variability of sequences and sample size. For conserved genes like the nucleoprotein gene, longer k-mers than mono- and dinucleotides are needed to better distinguish the sequences. We also showed that both alignment-based and alignment-free methods can accurately predict the hosts of viruses. When alignment is difficult to achieve or highly time-consuming, alignment-free methods can be a promising substitute to predict the hosts of new viruses.

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