A large number of newly sequenced proteins are generated by the next-generation sequencing technologies and the biochemical function assignment of the proteins is an important task. However, biological experiments are too expensive to characterize such a large number of protein sequences, thus protein function prediction is primarily done by computational modeling methods, such as profile Hidden Markov Model (pHMM) and k-mer based methods. Nevertheless, existing methods have some limitations; k-mer based methods are not accurate enough to assign protein functions and pHMM is not fast enough to handle large number of protein sequences from numerous genome projects. Therefore, a more accurate and faster protein function prediction method is needed.


In this paper, we introduce DeepFam, an alignment-free method that can extract functional information directly from sequences without the need of multiple sequence alignments. In extensive experiments using the Clusters of Orthologous Groups (COGs) and G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) dataset, DeepFam achieved better performance in terms of accuracy and runtime for predicting functions of proteins compared to the state-of-the-art methods, both alignment-free and alignment-based methods. Additionally, we showed that DeepFam has a power of capturing conserved regions to model protein families. In fact, DeepFam was able to detect conserved regions documented in the Prosite database while predicting functions of proteins. Our deep learning method will be useful in characterizing functions of the ever increasing protein sequences.

Availability and implementation

Codes are available at

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact [email protected]