Scientists Develop AI-based Method to Predict Rna Modifications

09 February 2023 | Thursday | News

The new method enables faster and easier reading of RNA modifications which can be applied to clinical samples, the study of plant RNA, or understanding their role in diseases.
m6Anet detects m6A modification from direct RNA sequencing data. (Credit: A*STAR’s Genome  Institute of Singapore. Image designed by Dr Radhika Patnala (

m6Anet detects m6A modification from direct RNA sequencing data. (Credit: A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore. Image designed by Dr Radhika Patnala (

A team of researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and  Research (A*STAR) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) has developed a  software method that accurately predicts chemical modifications of RNA1 molecules  from genomic data. Their method, called m6Anet, was published in Nature Methods on 10 November 2022. 

1 Ribonucleic acid (abbreviated RNA) is a nucleic acid present in all living cells that has structural similarities to DNA.  Unlike DNA, however, RNA is most often single-stranded. An RNA molecule has a backbone made of alternating  phosphate groups and sugar ribose, rather than the deoxyribose found in DNA. Ribonucleic-Acid

Within the RNA, different types of chemical molecules added to the RNA determine  how the RNA molecule functions. However, these RNA changes are often invisible to  standard approaches used by scientists to read RNA. Presently, more than 160 RNA  modifications have been discovered, of which the most prevalent RNA modification— 

N6-Methyladenosine (m6A)—is associated with human diseases such as cancer.  

In the past, identifying RNA modifications required time-consuming and laborious  bench experiments that were not accessible to most laboratories. Furthermore,  previous methods failed to detect m6A at the single-molecule resolution, which is  critical for understanding the biological mechanisms involving m6A. 

The team overcame these limitations by leveraging direct Nanopore RNA sequencing,  an emerging technology that sequences a raw RNA molecule together with its RNA  modifications. In this study, they developed m6Anet, a software that trains deep neural  networks with abundant direct Nanopore RNA sequencing data and Multiple-Instance  Learning (MIL) approach, to accurately detect the presence of m6A.  

"In traditional machine learning, we often have one label for each example we want to  classify. For example, each image is either a cat or not a cat, and the algorithm learns  to differentiate cat images from other images based on their labels. The issue with  detecting m6A is that we have an overwhelming amount of data with unclear labels.  Imagine having a large photo album with a cat photo hidden among millions of other  photos, and attempting to identify that particular photo without having any labels to  base your search upon. Fortunately, this has been studied in machine learning  literature before and is known as the MIL problem," explained Christopher Hendra,  current PhD student at A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and NUS  Institute of Data Science, and the first author of the study.  

In this study, the team demonstrated that m6Anet can predict the presence of m6A  with high accuracy at a single-molecule resolution from a single sample across  species. 

"Our AI model has only seen data from a human sample, but it is able to accurately  identify RNA modifications even in samples from species that the model has not seen  before," said Dr Jonathan Göke, Group Leader of the Laboratory of Computational  Transcriptomics at A*STAR’s GIS and senior author of the study. “The ability to identify  RNA modifications in different biological samples can be used to understand their role  in many different applications such as in cancer research or plant genomics.” 

"It is very satisfying to see how theoretically-grounded and well-studied machine learning techniques such as the MIL can be leveraged to offer an elegant solution to  this challenging problem. Witnessing the software being adopted so rapidly by the  scientific community is a reward for our efforts!" said Associate Professor Alexandre 

Thiery, Department of Statistics and Data Science, NUS Faculty of Science, who co led the study. 

Prof Patrick Tan, Executive Director of A*STAR’s GIS, said, “Accurately and efficiently  identifying RNA modifications had been a long-standing challenge, and m6Anet helps  to address these limitations. To benefit the wider scientific community, this AI method,  along with results from the study, have been made public for other scientists to  accelerate their research.” 


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