Protein identification using mass spectrometry is an important tool in many areas of the life sciences, and in proteomics research in particular. Increasing the number of proteins correctly identified is dependent on the ability to include new knowledge about the mass spectrometry fragmentation process, into computational algorithms designed to separate true matches of peptides to unidentified mass spectra from spurious matches. This discrimination is achieved by computing a function of the various features of the potential match between the observed and theoretical spectra to give a numerical approximation of their similarity. It is these underlying “metrics” that determine the ability of a protein identification package to maximise correct identifications while limiting false discovery rates. There is currently no software available specifically for the simple implementation and analysis of arbitrary novel metrics for peptide matching and for the exploration of fragmentation patterns for a given dataset.
We present Harvest: an open source software tool for analysing fragmentation patterns and assessing the power of a new piece of information about the MS/MS fragmentation process to more clearly differentiate between correct and random peptide assignments. We demonstrate this functionality using data metrics derived from the properties of individual datasets in a peptide identification context. Using Harvest, we demonstrate how the development of such metrics may improve correct peptide assignment confidence in the context of a high-throughput proteomics experiment and characterise properties of peptide fragmentation.
Harvest provides a simple framework in C++ for analysing and prototyping metrics for peptide matching, the core of the protein identification problem. It is not a protein identification package and answers a different research question to packages such as Sequest, Mascot, X!Tandem, and other protein identification packages. It does not aim to maximise the number of assigned peptides from a set of unknown spectra, but
instead provides a method by which researchers can explore fragmentation properties and assess the power of novel metrics for peptide matching in the context of a given experiment. Metrics developed using Harvest may then become candidates for later integration into protein identification packages.