Document Type



Master of Science


Computer Science

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Badri Adhikari


Sharlee Climer

Mark Hauschild


Background: Much of the recent success in protein structure prediction has been a result of accurate protein contact prediction--a binary classification problem. Dozens of methods, built from various types of machine learning and deep learning algorithms, have been published over the last two decades for predicting contacts. Recently, many groups, including Google DeepMind, have demonstrated that reformulating the problem as a multi-class classification problem is a more promising direction to pursue. As an alternative approach, we recently proposed real-valued distance predictions, formulating the problem as a regression problem. The nuances of protein 3D structures make this formulation appropriate, allowing predictions to reflect inter-residue distances in nature. Despite these promises, the accurate prediction of real-valued distances remains relatively unexplored; possibly due to classification being better suited to machine and deep learning algorithms.

Methods: Can regression methods be designed to predict real-valued distances as precise as binary contacts? To investigate this, we propose multiple novel methods of input label engineering, which is different from feature engineering, with the goal of optimizing the distribution of distances to cater to the loss function of the deep-learning model. Since an important utility of predicted contacts or distances is to build three-dimensional models, we also tested if predicted distances can reconstruct more accurate models than contacts.

Results: Our results demonstrate, for the first time, that deep learning methods for real-valued protein distance prediction can deliver distances as precise as binary classification methods. When using an optimal distance transformation function on the standard PSICOV dataset consisting of 150 representative proteins, the precision of top-NC long-range contacts improves from 60.9% to 61.4% when predicting real-valued distances instead of contacts. When building three-dimensional models, we observed an average TM-score increase from 0.61 to 0.72, highlighting the advantage of predicting real-valued distances.