Nucleic Acids Research 34(14) , 3980-3987 ( 2006)
Here we show that regions upstream of first transcribed genes have oligonucleotide signatures that distinguish them from regions upstream of genes in the middle of operons. Databases of experimentally confirmed transcription units do not exist for most genomes. Thus, to expand the analyses into genomes with no experimentally confirmed data, we used genes conserved adjacent in evolutionarily distant genomes as representatives of genes inside operons. Likewise, we used divergently transcribed genes as representative examples of first transcribed genes. In model organisms, the trinucleotide signatures of regions upstream of these representative genes allow for operon predictions with accuracies close to those obtained with known operon data (0.8). Signature-based operon predictions have more similar phylogenetic profiles and higher proportions of genes in the same pathways than predicted transcription unit boundaries (TUBs). These results confirm that we are separating genes with related functions, as expected for operons, from genes not necessarily related, as expected for genes in different transcription units. We also test the quality of the predictions using microarray data in six genomes and show that the signature-predicted operons tend to have high correlations of expression. Oligonucleotide signatures should expand the number of tools available to identify operons even in poorly characterized genomes.