Overall Objectives
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New Software and Platforms
New Results
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Section: New Results

Identifying the molecular elements

RNA-seq NGS algorithms and data analysis

SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) are genetic markers whose precise identification is a prerequisite for association studies. Methods to identify them are currently well developed for model species, but rely on the availability of a (good) reference genome, and therefore cannot be applied to non-model species. They are also mostly tailored for whole genome (re-)sequencing experiments, whereas in many cases, transcriptome sequencing can be used as a cheaper alternative which already enables to identify SNPs located in transcribed regions. In a paper accepted this year [18], we proposed the use of a previously developed method, KisSplice , that identifies, quantifies and annotates SNPs without any reference genome, using RNA-seq data only. Individuals can be pooled prior to sequencing if not enough material is available from one individual. Using pooled human RNA-seq data, we clarified the precision and recall of our method and discussed them with respect to other methods which use a reference genome or an assembled transcriptome. We then validated experimentally the predictions of our method using RNA-seq data from two non-model species. KisSplice can be used for any species to annotate SNPs and predict their impact on the protein sequence. We further enable to test for the association of the identified SNPs with a phenotype of interest.

We participated also in two other works, one computational and the other biological, on alternative splicing in Human.

The first is associated to the ANR Colib'read project in which we were one of the partners. A Colib'read Galaxy tools suite was developed that should enable a broad range of life science researchers to analyse raw NGS data, allows the maximum biological information to be retained in the data, and uses a very low memory footprint [17]. The algorithms implemented in the tools are based on the use of a de Bruijn graph and of a bloom filter. The analyses can be performed in a few hours, using small amounts of memory. Applications using real data further demonstrate the good accuracy of these tools compared to classical approaches.

KisSplice was also used in the context of myotonic dystrophy (DM), which is caused by the expression of mutant RNAs containing expanded CUG repeats that sequester muscleblind-like (MBNL) proteins, leading to alternative splicing changes. Cardiac alterations, characterised by conduction delays and arrhythmia, are the second most common cause of death in DM. Using RNA sequencing, the authors of [14] identified novel splicing alterations in DM heart samples, including a switch from adult exon 6B towards fetal exon 6A in the cardiac sodium channel, SCN5A. They found that MBNL1 regulates alternative splicing of SCN5A mRNA and that the splicing variant of SCN5A produced in DM presents a reduced excitability compared to the control adult isoform. Importantly, reproducing splicing alteration of Scn5a in mice is sufficient to promote heart arrhythmia and cardiac-conduction delay, two predominant features of myotonic dystrophy. Misregulation of the alternative splicing of SCN5A may therefore contribute to a subset of the cardiac dysfunctions observed in myotonic dystrophy.

We introduced Cidane , a novel framework for genome-based transcript reconstruction and quantification from RNA-seq reads [8]. Cidane assembles transcripts efficiently with significantly higher sensitivity and precision than existing tools. Its algorithmic core not only reconstructs transcripts ab initio, but also allows the use of the growing annotation of known splice sites, transcription start and end sites, or full-length transcripts, which are available for most model organisms. Cidane supports the integrated analysis of RNA-seq and additional gene-boundary data and recovers splice junctions that are invisible to other methods.

Landscape of somatic mutations in breast cancer whole-genome sequences

In the context of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), we conducted a whole-genome, exome, RNASeq and methylome characterisation of 560 breast cancers. The results were published this year in three main papers.

The first one describes the general landscape of somatic mutations and rearrangements in all subtypes of breast cancers [21]. This allowed to extend our current repertoire of probable breast cancer drivers to 93 genes. The mutational signature analysis was extended to genome rearrangements as well and revealed six typical rearrangement signatures. Three of them, characterised by tandem duplications or deletions, appear associated with defective homologous- recombination-based DNA repair (BRCA1/2). This analysis highlighted the repertoire of cancer genes and mutational processes operating in human, and represented a progress towards obtaining a comprehensive account of the somatic genetic basis of breast cancer.

This first analysis was then used to link known and novel drivers and mutational signatures to gene expression (transcriptome) of 266 cases [28]. One important and still debated question is to know to what extend somatic aberrations could trigger an immune-response. Our data suggested that substitutions of a particular type could be more effective in doing so than others.

Finally, in the context of ICGC, France was in charge of the analysis of a clinically specific subgroup of breast cancers, called HER2-positive, characterised by the HER2/ERBB2 amplification and over-expression. This is a subgroup for which several efficient targeted therapies (trastuzumab) are now available. However, resistance to treatment has been observed, revealing the underlying diversity of these cancers. An in-depth genomic and transcriptomic characterisation of 64 HER2-positive breast tumour was carried out. We delineated four subgroups, based on the expression data, each of them with distinctive genomic features in terms of somatic mutations, copy-number changes or structural variations [12]. The results suggested that, despite being clinically delineated by a specific gene amplification, HER2-positive tumours actually melt into the luminal-basal breast cancer spectrum rather, probably following their "cell-of-origin" fate and suggesting that the ERBB2 amplification is an embedded event in the natural history of these tumours. Finally, WGS data allowed us to gain more information about the amplification process itself and brought some indications about how (and maybe when) it arose. Whole genome paired-end sequencing provides two important experimental clues to this purpose: a) high dynamics and resolution analysis of copy numbers, and b) ability to pinpoint large scale structural rearrangements by using clipping and abnormal mapping of read pairs. We could show that, in several cases, the observed sequence of copy numbers as well as the orientation of clipped reads was consistent with a breakage-fusion-bridge folding mechanism (BFB). However, the observation of long distance and inter-chromosomal rearrangements further showed that the amplification is a complex event (or sequence of events), likely involving several amplicons on the same or different chromosomes and several intertwined mechanisms. Indeed one of the features of HER2+ tumours is the ubiquitous presence of firestorms, corresponding to multiple closely spaced amplicons on highly rearranged chromosomal arms. It is therefore tempting to combine two mechanisms to explain the complex amplification patterns observed: chromothripsis, which will generate a mosaic of fragments (but no amplification per se), followed by a BFB amplification of chromosomal arm(s). This work was done at the “Plateforme Bioinformatique Gilles Thomas” located at Centre Léon Bérard (Lyon).

Sequence comparison

Sequence comparison is a fundamental step in many important computational biology tasks, in particular the reconstruction of genomes, a first key step before being able to identify the molecular elements present in them.

Traditional algorithms for measuring approximation in sequence comparison are based on the notions of distance or similarity, and are generally computed through sequence alignment techniques. As circular molecular structures are a common phenomenon in nature, a caveat of the adaptation of alignment techniques for circular sequence comparison is that they are computationally expensive, requiring from super-quadratic to cubic time in the length of the sequences. We introduced a new distance measure based on q-grams, and showed how it can be applied effectively and computed efficiently for circular sequence comparison [15]. Experimental results, using real DNA, RNA, and protein sequences as well as synthetic data, demonstrated orders-of-magnitude superiority of our approach in terms of efficiency, while maintaining an accuracy very competitive in relation to the state of the art.

Data structures for text indexing and string (sequence) comparison

Suffix trees are important data structures for text indexing and string algorithms. For any given string w of length n=|w|, a suffix tree for w takes O(n) vertices and links. It is often presented as a compacted version of a suffix trie for w, where the latter is the trie (or digital search tree) built on the suffixes of w. The compaction process replaces each maximal chain of unary vertices with a single arc. For this, the suffix tree requires that the labels of its arcs are substrings encoded as pointers to w (or equivalent information). On the contrary, the arcs of the suffix trie are labeled by single symbols but there can be Θ(n2) vertices and links for suffix tries in the worst case because of their unary vertices. It was an interesting question if the suffix trie can be stored using O(n) vertices. We addressed it and thus presented the linear-size suffix trie, which guarantees O(n) vertices [11]. We used a new technique for reducing the number of unary vertices to O(n), that stems from some results on anti-dictionaries. For instance, by using the linear-size suffix trie, we are able to check whether a pattern p of length m=|p| occurs in w in O(mlog|Σ|) time and we can find the longest common substring of two strings w1 and w2 in O((|w1|+|w2|)log|Σ||) time for an alphabet Σ|.

Haplotype assembly

Haplotype assembly is the computational problem of reconstructing haplotypes in diploid organisms and is of fundamental importance for characterising the effects of single-nucleotide polymorphisms on the expression of phenotypic traits. Haplotype assembly highly benefits from the advent of "future-generation" sequencing technologies and their capability to produce long reads at increasing coverage. Existing methods are not able to deal with such data in a fully satisfactory way, either because accuracy or performances degrade as read length and sequencing coverage increase or because they are based on restrictive assumptions.

By exploiting a feature of future-generation technologies – the uniform distribution of sequencing errors – we designed an exact algorithm, called HapCol , that is exponential in the maximum number of corrections for each single-nucleotide polymorphism position and that minimises the overall error-correction score [22]. We performed an experimental analysis, comparing HapCol to the current state-of-the-art combinatorial methods both on real and simulated data. On a standard benchmark of real data, we showed that HapCol is competitive with state-of-the-art methods, improving the accuracy and the number of phased positions. Furthermore, experiments on realistically simulated datasets revealed that HapCol requires significantly less computing resources, especially memory. Thanks to its computational efficiency, HapCol can overcome the limits of previous approaches, allowing to phase datasets with higher coverage and without the traditional all-heterozygous assumption.

HapCol is based on MEC (Minimum error correction) which is computationally hard to solve. However, some approximation-based or fixed-parameter approaches have been proved capable of obtaining accurate results on real data. In another work [5], we then attempted to expand the current characterisation of the computational complexity of MEC from such approximation and fixed-parameter tractability points of view. We showed that MEC is not approximable within a constant factor, whereas it is approximable within a logarithmic factor in the size of the input. Furthermore, we answered open questions on the fixed-parameter tractability for parameters of classical or practical interest: the total number of corrections and the fragment length. In addition, we presented a direct 2-approximation algorithm for a variant of the problem that has also been applied in the framework of clustering data. Finally, since polyploid genomes, such as those of plants and fishes, are composed of more than two copies of the chromosomes, we introduced a novel formulation of MEC, namely the k-ploid MEC problem, that extends the traditional problem to deal with polyploid genomes. We showed that the novel formulation remains both computationally hard and hard to approximate. Nonetheless, from the parameterised point of view, we proved that the problem is tractable for parameters of practical interest such as the number of haplotypes and the coverage, or the number of haplotypes and the fragment length.