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Analyzing repeat rich plant smRNA-seq data with ShortStack

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Small RNA expression is difficult to analyse. They're small molecules anywhere from 18 -25 nt for miRNAs, they occur as identical or near identical family members and are subject to RNA editing as well as errors from the sequencer.

My recent paper is an analysis of alignment tools for microRNA analysis with a strong focus on uniquely mapped reads. All that's OK, but in some organisms such as grasses (rice, barley, wheat, etc) you'll find that multimapped reads far outnumber uniquely placed ones. If you omit multimapped reads from the analysis, then you'll be excluding the majority of reads which is definitely a bad idea in any NGS analysis pipeline.

To demonstrate this, I downloaded smRNA-seq data from SRA (SRP029886) that consists of 3 datasets (SRR976171, SRR976172, SRR976173), clipped the adaptors off and mapped them to the genome with BWA aln then counted reads mapped to exonic regions uniquely (mapQ≥10).
So as you can see, the proportion of reads that are assigned …