PoET: A generative model of protein families as sequences-of-sequences

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper


Timothy Truong Jr, Tristan Bepler


Generative protein language models are a natural way to design new proteins with desired functions. However, current models are either difficult to direct to produce a protein from a specific family of interest, or must be trained on a large multiple sequence alignment (MSA) from the specific family of interest, making them unable to benefit from transfer learning across families. To address this, we propose Protein Evolutionary Transformer (PoET), an autoregressive generative model of whole protein families that learns to generate sets of related proteins as sequences-of-sequences across tens of millions of natural protein sequence clusters. PoET can be used as a retrieval-augmented language model to generate and score arbitrary modifications conditioned on any protein family of interest, and can extrapolate from short context lengths to generalize well even for small families. This is enabled by a unique Transformer layer; we model tokens sequentially within sequences while attending between sequences order invariantly, allowing PoET to scale to context lengths beyond those used during training. In extensive experiments on deep mutational scanning datasets, we show that PoET outperforms existing protein language models and evolutionary sequence models for variant function prediction across proteins of all MSA depths. We also demonstrate PoET's ability to controllably generate new protein sequences.