Large-Scale Search of Transcriptomic Read Sets with Sequence Bloom Trees

Large-Scale Search of Transcriptomic Read Sets with Sequence Bloom Trees
Brad Solomon , Carleton Kingsford

Enormous databases of short-read RNA-seq sequencing experiments such as the NIH Sequence Read Archive (SRA) are now available. However, these collections remain difficult to use due to the inability to search for a particular expressed sequence. A natural question is which of these experiments contain sequences that indicate the expression of a particular sequence such as a gene isoform, lncRNA, or uORF. However, at present this is a computationally demanding question at the scale of these databases. We introduce an indexing scheme, the Sequence Bloom Tree (SBT), to support sequence-based querying of terabase-scale collections of thousands of short-read sequencing experiments. We apply SBT to the problem of finding conditions under which query transcripts are expressed. Our experiments are conducted on a set of 2652 publicly available RNA-seq experiments contained in the NIH for the breast, blood, and brain tissues, comprising 5 terabytes of sequence. SBTs of this size can be queried for a 1000 nt sequence in 19 minutes using less than 300 MB of RAM, over 100 times faster than standard usage of SRA-BLAST and 119 times faster than STAR. SBTs allow for fast identification of experiments with expressed novel isoforms, even if these isoforms were unknown at the time the SBT was built. We also provide some theoretical guidance about appropriate parameter selection in SBT and propose a sampling-based scheme for potentially scaling SBT to even larger collections of files. While SBT can handle any set of reads, we demonstrate the effectiveness of SBT by searching a large collection of blood, brain, and breast RNA-seq files for all 214,293 known human transcripts to identify tissue-specific transcripts. The implementation used in the experiments below is in C++ and is available as open source at


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