Understanding metal–protein interaction can provide structural and functional insights into cellular processes. As the number of protein sequences increases, developing fast yet precise computational approaches to predict and annotate metal-binding sites becomes imperative. Quick and resource-efficient pre-trained protein language model (pLM) embeddings have successfully predicted binding sites from protein sequences despite not using structural or evolutionary features (multiple sequence alignments). Using residue-level embeddings from the pLMs, we have developed a sequence-based method (M-Ionic) to identify metal-binding proteins and predict residues involved in metal binding.


On independent validation of recent proteins, M-Ionic reports an area under the curve (AUROC) of 0.83 (recall = 84.6%) in distinguishing metal binding from non-binding proteins compared to AUROC of 0.74 (recall = 61.8%) of the next best method. In addition to comparable performance to the state-of-the-art method for identifying metal-binding residues (Ca2+, Mg2+, Mn2+, Zn2+), M-Ionic provides binding probabilities for six additional ions (i.e. Cu2+, Po43, So42, Fe2+, Fe3+, Co2+). We show that the pLM embedding of a single residue contains sufficient information about its neighbours to predict its binding properties.

Availability and implementation

M-Ionic can be used on your protein of interest using a Google Colab Notebook ( The GitHub repository ( contains all code and data.

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