Reference-based assembly

In the previous steps we have gone through cleaning and trimming of the reads, de-novo assembly of contigs and the alignment of those contigs that represent our target sequences. Now we will use those contigs in order to generate new reference libraries and assemble the reads with the hekp of those reference sequences (=reference-based assembly vs. de-novo assembly in the previous steps). Why doing an assembly again and on top of that, why are we assembling a new reference library, you may wonder. There are several reasons for the steps that follow:

  1. Sensitivity: So far we have been using one reference library (the bait sequence set or equivalent) for finding matching sequences across all of our samples. While this may be fine if all your organisms are closely related (e.g. within the same genus), in all other cases you may loose many sequences because they are not similar enough to the reference sequence. Not only does this lead to a lower sequence turn-out but it also biases your results toward those seqeunces most similar to the reference sequence. The soultion to this is to use the sequence data we already assembled in the previous steps to create family-, genus- or even sample-specific reference libraries

  2. Intron/Exon structure: Another reason for creating a new reference library is that you most likely have a set of exon sequences that were used to design the RNA baits for sequence capture. The more variable introns in between are not suitable for designing baits (too variable) but are extremely useful for most phylogenetic analyses (more information). There is a good chance that our contigs will contain parts of the trailing introns or in the best case even span across the complete intron, connecting two exon sequences. This is why we want to use these usually longer and more complete seqeunces for reference-based assembly, rather than the short, clipped exon sequences (see image below).

  3. Allelic variation: Remapping the reads in the process of reference-based assembly will make visible the different alleles at a given locus. We will be able to see how many reads support allele a and how many support allele b and will have a better handle on separating sequencing errors from true variation (by assessing coverage). Further looking at the results of reference-based assembly can help distinguishing paralogues from allelic variation (if too many differences between the variants within one sample in one locus, it may likely be a case of paralogy).

  4. Coverage: Reference-based assembly will give you a better and more intuitive overview over read-depth for all of your loci. There are excellent visualization softwares that help interpret the results.

In [4]:
from IPython.display import Image, display
img1 = Image("../../images/exon_vs_contig_based_assembly.png",width=600)
print('Reference-based assembly is more powerful when using contigs as reference')
print('rather than the exon sequences from the bait-design step, as it spans')
print('accross adjacent intron sequences.')

Reference-based assembly is more powerful when using contigs as reference
rather than the exon sequences from the bait-design step, as it spans
accross adjacent intron sequences.