Recent revolutionary developments in genomics and computational structural biology lead to the rapidly increasing amount of data on biomolecular sequences and structures. The deposition rate for both sequence and structure databases continues to grow exponentially. The efficient utilization of this data depends on the availability of methods and tools for biomolecular data analysis. Significant achievements have been made in DNA and protein sequence analysis, now the focus in bioinformatics research is shifting from sequence to structural and functional data. Accurate prediction of protein three-dimensional structure from its primary sequence represents one of the greatest challenges of modern theoretical biology. Detailed knowledge of protein structure is essential for understanding the mechanisms of biological processes at molecular, cellular, and evolutionary levels. The structures of only a fraction of all known primary sequences have been determined experimentally. Several approaches to protein structure prediction have been developed in recent years. Many of these approaches rely on the knowledge derived from the analysis of significant spatial and compositional patterns in known protein structures and understanding of the role these patterns play in the extremely complex processes, like protein folding or protein function. Such an analysis requires an objective definition of nearest neighbor residues that can be provided by the statistical geometry methods.
In the statistical geometry methods the nearest neighbor atoms or groups of atoms are identified by statistical analysis of irregular polyhedra obtained as a result of a specific tessellation in three-dimensional space. Voronoi tessellation partitions the space into convex polytopes called Voronoi polyhedra (Voronoi, 1908). For a molecular system the Voronoi polyhedron is the region of space around an atom, such that each point of this region is closer to the atom than to any other atom of the system. A group of four atoms whose Voronoi polyhedra meet at a common vertex forms another basic topological object called a Delaunay simplex (Delaunay, 1934). The results of the procedure for constructing Voronoi polyhedra and Delaunay simplices in two dimensions are illustrated in Fig. 3.1. The topological difference between these objects is that the Voronoi polyhedron represents the environment of individual atoms whereas the Delaunay simplex represents the ensemble of neighboring atoms. The Voronoi polyhedra and the Delaunay simplices are topological duals and they are completely determined by each other. However the Voronoi polyhedra may have different numbers of faces and edges, while the Delaunay simplices are always tetrahedra in three-dimensional space. These tetrahedra can be used to define objectively the nearest neighbor entities in molecular systems.
Delaunay tessellation is a canonical tessellation of space based on nearest neighbors (Aurenhammer, 1991; Sugihara, 1995). A Delaunay tessellation of a set of points is equivalent to a convex hull of the set in one higher dimension, it can be performed using the Quickhull algorithm developed by Barber et al. (1996). The Quickhull algorithm is a variation of the randomized, incremental algorithm of Clarkson and Shor. The algorithm produces the Delaunay tessellation by computing the convex-hull of this set of points in four dimensions and is shown to be space and time efficient.