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Terminus enables the discovery of data-driven, robust transcript groups from RNA-seq data

By Hirak Sarkar, Avi Srivastava, H├ęctor Corrada Bravo, Michael I. Love, Rob Patro

Posted 08 Apr 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.04.07.029967

Motivation: Advances in sequencing technology, inference algorithms and differential testing methodology have enabled transcript-level analysis of RNA-seq data. Yet, the inherent inferential uncertainty in transcript-level abundance estimation, even among the most accurate approaches, means that robust transcript-level analysis often remains a challenge. Conversely, gene-level analysis remains a common and robust approach for understanding RNA-seq data, but it coarsens the resulting analysis to the level of genes, even if the data strongly support specific transcript-level effects. Results: We introduce a new data-driven approach for grouping together transcripts in an experiment based on their inferential uncertainty. Transcripts that share large numbers of ambiguously-mapping fragments with other transcripts, in complex patterns, often cannot have their abundances confidently estimated. Yet, the total transcriptional output of that group of transcripts will have greatly-reduced inferential uncertainty, thus allowing more robust and confident downstream analysis. Our approach, implemented in the tool terminus, groups together transcripts in a data-driven manner allowing transcript-level analysis where it can be confidently supported, and deriving transcriptional groups where the inferential uncertainty is too high to support a transcript-level result. Availability: Terminus is implemented in Rust, and is freely-available and open-source. It can be obtained from https://github.com/COMBINE-lab/terminus

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