Macromolecular surfaces are fundamental representations of their three-dimensional geometric shape. Accurate calculation of protein surfaces is of critical importance in the protein structural and functional studies including ligand-protein docking and virtual screening. In contrast to analytical or parametric representation of macromolecular surfaces, triangulated mesh surfaces have been proved to be easy to describe, visualize and manipulate by computer programs. Here, we develop a new algorithm of EDTSurf for generating three major macromolecular surfaces of van der Waals surface, solvent-accessible surface and molecular surface, using the technique of fast Euclidean Distance Transform (EDT). The triangulated surfaces are constructed directly from volumetric solids by a Vertex-Connected Marching Cube algorithm that forms triangles from grid points. Compared to the analytical result, the relative error of the surface calculations by EDTSurf is <2–4% depending on the grid resolution, which is 1.5–4 times lower than the methods in the literature; and yet, the algorithm is faster and costs less computer memory than the comparative methods. The improvements in both accuracy and speed of the macromolecular surface determination should make EDTSurf a useful tool for the detailed study of protein docking and structure predictions. Both source code and the executable program of EDTSurf are freely available at http://zhang.bioinformatics.ku.edu/EDTSurf.
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