Mirabela Rusu, and Willy Wriggers. Evolutionary Bidirectional Expansion for the Tracing of Alpha Helices in Cryo-Electron Microscopy Reconstructions. J. Struct. Biol. 2012, Vol. 177, pp. 410-419.

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) enables the imaging of macromolecular complexes in near-native environments at resolutions that often permit the visualization of secondary structure elements. For example, alpha helices frequently show consistent patterns in volumetric maps, exhibiting rod-like structures of high density. Here, we introduce VolTrac (Volume Tracer) – a novel technique for the annotation of alpha-helical density in cryo-EM data sets. VolTrac combines a genetic algorithm and a bidirectional expansion with a tabu search strategy to trace helical regions. Our method takes advantage of the stochastic search by using a genetic algorithm to identify optimal placements for a short cylindrical template, avoiding exploration of already characterized tabu regions. These placements are then utilized as starting positions for the adaptive bidirectional expansion that characterizes the curvature and length of the helical region. The method reliably predicted helices with seven or more residues in experimental and simulated maps at intermediate (4–10 Å) resolution. The observed success rates, ranging from 70.6% to 100%, depended on the map resolution and validation parameters. For successful predictions, the helical axes were located within 2 Å from known helical axes of atomic structures.

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