BACKGROUND: Deciphering cis-regulatory elements or de novo motif-finding in genomes still remains elusive although much algorithmic effort has been expended. The Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) method such as Gibbs motif samplers has been widely employed to solve the de novo motif-finding problem through sequence local alignment. Nonetheless, the MCMC-based motif samplers still suffer from local maxima like EM. Therefore, as a prerequisite for finding good local alignments, these motif algorithms are often independently run a multitude of times, but without information exchange between different chains. Hence it would be worth a new algorithm design enabling such information exchange. RESULTS: This paper presents a novel motif-finding algorithm by evolving a population of Markov chains with information exchange (PMC), each of which is initialized as a random alignment and run by the Metropolis-Hastings sampler (MHS). It is progressively updated through a series of local alignments stochastically sampled. Explicitly, the PMC motif algorithm performs stochastic sampling as specified by a population-based proposal distribution rather than individual ones, and adaptively evolves the population as a whole towards a global maximum. The alignment information exchange is accomplished by taking advantage of the pooled motif site distributions. A distinct method for running multiple independent Markov chains (IMC) without information exchange, or dubbed as the IMC motif algorithm, is also devised to compare with its PMC counterpart. CONCLUSION: Experimental studies demonstrate that the performance could be improved if pooled information were used to run a population of motif samplers. The new PMC algorithm was able to improve the convergence and outperformed other popular algorithms tested using simulated and biological motif sequences.
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