Systematic association of genes to phenotypes by genome and literature mining.
One of the major challenges of functional genomics is to unravel the connection between genotype and phenotype. So far no global analysis has attempted to explore those connections in the light of the large phenotypic variability seen in nature. Here, we use an unsupervised, systematic approach for associating genes and phenotypic characteristics that combines literature mining with comparative genome analysis. We first mine the MEDLINE literature database for terms that reflect phenotypic similarities of species. Subsequently we predict the likely genomic determinants: genes specifically present in the respective genomes. In a global analysis involving 92 prokaryotic genomes we retrieve 323 clusters containing a total of 2,700 significant gene-phenotype associations. Some clusters contain mostly known relationships, such as genes involved in motility or plant degradation, often with additional hypothetical proteins associated with those phenotypes. Other clusters comprise unexpected associations; for example, a group of terms related to food and spoilage is linked to genes predicted to be involved in bacterial food poisoning. Among the clusters, we observe an enrichment of pathogenicity-related associations, suggesting that the approach reveals many novel genes likely to play a role in infectious diseases.