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Reconstruction of a biological system from its experimental time series data is a challenging task in systems biology. The S-system which consists of a group of nonlinear ordinary differential equations (ODEs) is an effective model to characterize molecular biological systems and analyze the system dynamics. However, inference of S-systems without the knowledge of system structure is not a trivial task due to its nonlinearity and complexity. In this paper, a pruning separable parameter estimation algorithm (PSPEA) is proposed for inferring S-systems. This novel algorithm combines the separable parameter estimation method (SPEM) and a pruning strategy, which includes adding an ℓ1 regularization term to the objective function and pruning the solution with a threshold value. Then, this algorithm is combined with the continuous genetic algorithm (CGA) to form a hybrid algorithm that owns the properties of these two combined algorithms. The performance of the pruning strategy in the proposed algorithm is evaluated from two aspects: the parameter estimation error and structure identification accuracy. The results show that the proposed algorithm with the pruning strategy has much lower estimation error and much higher identification accuracy than the existing method.