Motivation: In the context of third-generation long-read sequencing technologies, read-overlap-based approaches are expected to play a central role in the assembly step. A fundamental challenge in assembling from a read-overlap graph is that the true sequence corresponds to a Hamiltonian path on the graph, and, under most formulations, the assembly problem becomes NP-hard, restricting practical approaches to heuristics. In this work, we avoid this seemingly fundamental barrier by first setting the computational complexity issue aside, and seeking an algorithm that targets information limits. In particular, we consider a basic feasibility question: when does the set of reads contain enough information to allow unambiguous reconstruction of the true sequence?
Results: Based on insights from this information feasibility question, we present an algorithm—the NOT-SO-GREEDY algorithm—to construct a sparse read-overlap graph. Unlike most other assembly algorithms, NOT-SO-GREEDY comes with a performance guarantee: whenever information feasibility conditions are satisfied, the algorithm reduces the assembly problem to an Eulerian path problem on the resulting graph, and can thus be solved in linear time. In practice, this theoretical guarantee translates into assemblies of higher quality. Evaluations on both simulated reads from real genomes and a PacBio Escherichia coli K12 dataset demonstrate that NOT-SO-GREEDY compares favorably with standard string graph approaches in terms of accuracy of the resulting read-overlap graph and contig N50.
Availability: Available at github.com/samhykim/nsg
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Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.