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Many theoretical advances have been made in applying probabilistic inference methods to improve the power of sequence homology searches, yet the BLAST suite of programs is still the workhorse for most of the field. The main reason for this is practical: BLAST’s programs are about 100-fold faster than the fastest competing implementations of probabilistic inference methods. I describe recent work on the HMMER software suite for protein sequence analysis, which implements probabilistic inference using profile hidden Markov models. Our aim in HMMER3 is to achieve BLAST’s speed while further improving the power of probabilistic inference based methods. HMMER3 implements a new probabilistic model of local sequence alignment and a new heuristic acceleration algorithm. Combined with efficient vector-parallel implementations on modern processors, these improvements synergize. HMMER3 uses more powerful log-odds likelihood scores (scores summed over alignment uncertainty, rather than scoring a single optimal alignment); it calculates accurate expectation values (E-values) for those scores without simulation using a generalization of Karlin/Altschul theory; it computes posterior distributions over the ensemble of possible alignments and returns posterior probabilities (confidences) in each aligned residue; and it does all this at an overall speed comparable to BLAST. The HMMER project aims to usher in a new generation of more powerful homology search tools based on probabilistic inference methods.