Current state-of-the-art tools for the de novo annotation of genes in eukaryotic genomes have to be specifically fitted for each species and still often produce annotations that can be improved much further. The fundamental algorithmic architecture for these tools has remained largely unchanged for about two decades, limiting learning capabilities. Here, we set out to improve the cross-species annotation of genes from DNA sequence alone with the help of deep learning. The goal is to eliminate the dependency on a closely related gene model while also improving the predictive quality in general with a fundamentally new architecture.


We present Helixer, a framework for the development and usage of a cross-species deep learning model that improves significantly on performance and generalizability when compared to more traditional methods. We evaluate our approach by building a single vertebrate model for the base-wise annotation of 186 animal genomes and a separate land plant model for 51 plant genomes. Our predictions are shown to be much less sensitive to the length of the genome than those of a current state-of-the-art tool. We also present two novel post-processing techniques that each worked to further strengthen our annotations and show in-depth results of an RNA-Seq based comparison of our predictions. Our method does not yet produce comprehensive gene models but rather outputs base pair wise probabilities.

Availability and implementation

The source code of this work is available at under the GNU General Public License v3.0. The trained models are available at

Supplementary information

Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

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