A variety of functionally important protein properties, such as secondary structure, transmembrane topology and solvent accessibility, can be encoded as a labeling of amino acids. Indeed, the prediction of such properties from the primary amino acid sequence is one of the core projects of computational biology. Accordingly, a panoply of approaches have been developed for predicting such properties; however, most such approaches focus on solving a single task at a time. Motivated by recent, successful work in natural language processing, we propose to use multitask learning to train a single, joint model that exploits the dependencies among these various labeling tasks. We describe a deep neural network architecture that, given a protein sequence, outputs a host of predicted local properties, including secondary structure, solvent accessibility, transmembrane topology, signal peptides and DNA-binding residues. The network is trained jointly on all these tasks in a supervised fashion, augmented with a novel form of semi-supervised learning in which the model is trained to distinguish between local patterns from natural and synthetic protein sequences. The task-independent architecture of the network obviates the need for task-specific feature engineering. We demonstrate that, for all of the tasks that we considered, our approach leads to statistically significant improvements in performance, relative to a single task neural network approach, and that the resulting model achieves state-of-the-art performance. © 2012 Qi et al.
Qi, Y., Oja, M., Weston, J., & Noble, W. S. (2012). A unified multitask architecture for predicting local protein properties. PLoS ONE, 7(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0032235