STAble: a novel approach to de novo assembly of RNA-seq data and its application in a metabolic model network based metatranscriptomic workflow
De novo assembly of RNA-seq data allows the study of transcriptome in absence of a reference genome either if data is obtained from a single organism or from a mixed sample as in metatranscriptomics studies. Given the high number of sequences obtained from NGS approaches, a critical step in any analysis workflow is the assembly of reads to reconstruct transcripts thus reducing the complexity of the analysis. Despite many available tools show a good sensitivity, there is a high percentage of false positives due to the high number of assemblies considered and it is likely that the high frequency of false positive is underestimated by currently used benchmarks. The reconstruction of not existing transcripts may false the biological interpretation of results as – for example – may overestimate the identification of “novel” transcripts. Moreover, benchmarks performed are usually based on RNA-seq data from annotated genomes and assembled transcripts are compared to annotations and genomes to identify putative good and wrong reconstructions, but these tests alone may lead to accept a particular type of false positive as true, as better described below.
Here we present a novel methodology of de novo assembly, implemented in a software named STAble (Short-reads Transcriptome Assembler). The novel concept of this assembler is that the whole reads are used to determine possible alignments instead of using smaller k-mers, with the aim of reducing the number of chimeras produced. Furthermore, we applied a new set of benchmarks based on simulated data to better define the performance of assembly method and carefully identifying true reconstructions.
STAble was also used to build a prototype workflow to analyse metatranscriptomics data in connection to a steady state metabolic modelling algorithm. This algorithm was used to produce high quality metabolic interpretations of small gene expression sets obtained from already published RNA-seq data that we assembled with STAble.
The presented results, albeit preliminary, clearly suggest that with this approach is possible to identify informative reactions not directly revealed by raw transcriptomic data.