A beginner’s guide to Rosetta

Rosetta is a big software suite, and I mean really big. It includes applications for protein structure prediction, refinement, docking, and design, and specific adaptations of these applications (and others) to a particular case, for example protein-protein docking of membrane proteins to form membrane protein complexes. Some applications are available in one of the hassle-free servers online (e.g. ROSIE, Robetta, rosetta.design), which might work well if you’ve got just a few tests you would like to try using standard parameters and protocols. However, it’s likely that you will want to download and install a version if you’re interested in carrying out a large amount of modelling, or using an unusual combination of steps or scoring function. This is not a trivial task, as the source code is a 2.5G download, then your machine will be busy compiling for some time (around 5 hours on two cores on my old laptop). Alternatively, if the protocols and objects you’re interested in are part of PyRosetta, this is available in a pre-compiled package for most common operating systems and is less than 1G.

This brings me to the different ways to use Rosetta. Most applications come as an executable which you can find in Rosetta/main/source/bin/ after completing the build. There is documentation available on how to use most of these, and on the different flags which can be used to input PDB structures and parameters. Some applications can be run using RosettaScripts, which uses an xml file to define the protocol, including scoring functions, movers and other options. In this case, Rosetta/main/source/bin/rosetta_scripts.* is run, which will read the xml and execute the required protocol.


An example RosettaScript, used for the MPrelax protocol

PyRosetta is even more flexible, and relatively easy to use for anyone accustomed to programming in python. There are python bindings for the fast C++ objects and movers so that the increased usability is generally not greatly compromised by slower speeds. One of the really handy things about PyRosetta is the link to PyMOL which can be used to view the trajectory of your protein moving while a simulation is running. Just add the following to your .pymolrc file in your home directory to set up the link every time you open pymol:

run /PATH/TO/PYROSETTA/PyMOLPyRosettaServer.py

When it comes to finding your way around the Rosetta package, there are a few things it is very useful to know to start with. The demos directory contains plenty of useful example scripts and instructions for running your first jobs. In demos/tutorials you will find introductions to the main concepts. The demos/protocol_capture subdirectory is particularly helpful, as most papers which report a new Rosetta protocol will deposit here the scripts required to reproduce their results. These may not currently be the best methods to approach a problem, but if you have found a research article describing some results which would be useful to get for your system, they are a good starting point to learn how to make an application work. Then the world is your oyster as you explore the many possible options and inputs to change and add!