Skip to Main Content
Motif inference represents one of the most important areas of research in computational biology, and one of its oldest ones. Despite this, the problem remains very much open in the sense that no existing definition is fully satisfying, either in formal terms, or in relation to the biological questions that involve finding such motifs. Two main types of motifs have been considered in the literature: matrices (of letter frequency per position in the motif) and patterns. There is no conclusive evidence in favor of either, and recent work has attempted to integrate the two types into a single model. In this paper, we address the formal issue in relation to motifs as patterns. This is essential to get at a better understanding of motifs in general. In particular, we consider a promising idea that was recently proposed, which attempted to avoid the combinatorial explosion in the number of motifs by means of a generator set for the motifs. Instead of exhibiting a complete list of motifs satisfying some input constraints, what is produced is a basis of such motifs from which all the other ones can be generated. We study the computational cost of determining such a basis of repeated motifs with wild cards in a sequence. We give new upper and lower bounds on such a cost, introducing a notion of basis that is provably contained in (and, thus, smaller) than previously defined ones. Our basis can be computed in less time and space, and is still able to generate the same set of motifs. We also prove that the number of motifs in all bases defined so far grows exponentially with the quorum, that is, with the minimal number of times a motif must appear in a sequence, something unnoticed in previous work. We show that there is no hope to efficiently compute such bases unless the quorum is fixed.