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Performance of neural network basecalling tools for Oxford Nanopore sequencing

By Ryan R Wick, Louise M Judd, Kathryn Holt

Posted 07 Feb 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/543439 (published DOI: 10.1186/s13059-019-1727-y)

Basecalling, the computational process of translating raw electrical signal to nucleotide sequence, is of critical importance to the sequencing platforms produced by Oxford Nanopore Technologies (ONT). Here we examine the performance of different basecalling tools, looking at accuracy at the level of bases within individual reads and at majority-rules consensus basecalls in an assembly. We also investigate some additional aspects of basecalling: training using a taxon-specific dataset, using a larger neural network model and improving consensus basecalls in an assembly by additional signal-level analysis with Nanopolish. Training basecallers on taxon-specific data results in a significant boost in consensus accuracy, mostly due to the reduction of errors in methylation motifs. A larger neural network is able to improve both read and consensus accuracy, but at a cost to speed. Improving consensus sequences ('polishing') with Nanopolish somewhat negates the accuracy differences in basecallers, but prepolish accuracy does have an effect on post-polish accuracy. Basecalling accuracy has seen significant improvements over the last two years. The current version of ONT's Guppy basecaller performs well overall, with good accuracy and fast performance. If higher accuracy is required, users should consider producing a custom model using a larger neural network and/or training data from the same species.

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