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Sampling solution traces for the problem of sorting permutations by signed reversals

Christian Baudet12*, Zanoni Dias3 and Marie-France Sagot12*

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratoire Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive, Université de Lyon, Université Lyon 1, CNRS, Villeurbanne, UMR5558, France

2 INRIA Grenoble-Rhône-Alpes, team BAMBOO, 655 avenue de l’Europe, 38334 Montbonnot Cedex, France

3 Institute of Computing, University of Campinas, Campinas - SP, Brazil

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Algorithms for Molecular Biology 2012, 7:18  doi:10.1186/1748-7188-7-18

Published: 15 June 2012



Traditional algorithms to solve the problem of sorting by signed reversals output just one optimal solution while the space of all optimal solutions can be huge. A so-called trace represents a group of solutions which share the same set of reversals that must be applied to sort the original permutation following a partial ordering. By using traces, we therefore can represent the set of optimal solutions in a more compact way. Algorithms for enumerating the complete set of traces of solutions were developed. However, due to their exponential complexity, their practical use is limited to small permutations. A partial enumeration of traces is a sampling of the complete set of traces and can be an alternative for the study of distinct evolutionary scenarios of big permutations. Ideally, the sampling should be done uniformly from the space of all optimal solutions. This is however conjectured to be P-complete.


We propose and evaluate three algorithms for producing a sampling of the complete set of traces that instead can be shown in practice to preserve some of the characteristics of the space of all solutions. The first algorithm (RA) performs the construction of traces through a random selection of reversals on the list of optimal 1-sequences. The second algorithm (DFALT) consists in a slight modification of an algorithm that performs the complete enumeration of traces. Finally, the third algorithm (SWA) is based on a sliding window strategy to improve the enumeration of traces. All proposed algorithms were able to enumerate traces for permutations with up to 200 elements.


We analysed the distribution of the enumerated traces with respect to their height and average reversal length. Various works indicate that the reversal length can be an important aspect in genome rearrangements. The algorithms RA and SWA show a tendency to lose traces with high average reversal length. Such traces are however rare, and qualitatively our results show that, for testable-sized permutations, the algorithms DFALT and SWA produce distributions which approximate the reversal length distributions observed with a complete enumeration of the set of traces.

Reversals; Traces; Sampling; Genome rearrangement