Comparative analysis of bioinformatics tools to characterize SARS-CoV-2 subgenomic RNAs

During the replication of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), positive-sense genomic RNA and subgenomic RNAs (sgRNAs) are synthesized by a discontinuous process of transcription characterized by a template switch, regulated by transcription-regulating sequences (TRS). Although poorly known about makeup and dynamics of sgRNAs population and function of its constituents, next-generation sequencing approaches with the help of bioinformatics tools have made a significant contribution to expand the knowledge of sgRNAs in SARS-CoV-2. For this scope to date, Periscope, LeTRS, sgDI-tector, and CORONATATOR have been developed. However, limited number of studies are available to compare the performance of such tools. To this purpose, Researcehrs at the IRCCS Sacro Cuore Don Calabria Hospital compared Periscope, LeTRS, and sgDI-tector in the identification of canonical (c-) and noncanonical (nc-) sgRNA species in the data obtained with the Illumina ARTIC sequencing protocol applied to SARS-CoV-2-infected Caco-2 cells, sampled at different time points. The three software showed a high concordance rate in the identification and in the quantification of c-sgRNA, whereas more differences were observed in nc-sgRNA. Overall, LeTRS and sgDI-tector result to be adequate alternatives to Periscope to analyze Fastq data from sequencing platforms other than Nanopore.

The procedure applied for the analysis of the data

The Fastq files were down-sampled to the same number of fragments and used as input for Periscope analysis, whereas were also trimmed before the analyses with LeTRS and sgDI-tector.

Lavezzari D, Mori A, Pomari E, Deiana M, Fadda A, Bertoli L, Sinigaglia A, Riccetti S, Barzon L, Piubelli C, Delledonne M, Capobianchi MR, Castilletti C. (2023) Comparative analysis of bioinformatics tools to characterize SARS-CoV-2 subgenomic RNAs. Life Sci Alliance 6(12):e202302017. [article]

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