Benchmarking challenging small variants with linked and long reads

Genome in a Bottle (GIAB) benchmarks have been widely used to validate clinical sequencing pipelines and develop new variant calling and sequencing methods. Here we use accurate long and linked reads to expand the prior benchmark to include difficult-to-map regions and segmental duplications that are not readily accessible to short reads. Our new benchmark adds more than 300,000 SNVs, 50,000 indels, and 16 % new exonic variants, many in challenging, clinically relevant genes not previously covered (e.g., PMS2). We increase coverage of the GRCh38 assembly from 85 % to 92 %, while excluding problematic regions for benchmarking small variants (e.g., copy number variants and assembly errors) that should not have been in the previous version.

Our new benchmark reliably identifies both false positives and false negatives across multiple short-, linked-, and long-read based variant calling methods. As an example of its utility, this benchmark identifies eight times more false negatives in a short read variant call set relative to our previous benchmark, mostly in difficult-to-map regions. To enable robust small variant benchmarking, we still exclude 3.6% of GRCh37 and 5.0% of GRCh38 in (1) highly repetitive regions such as large, highly similar segmental duplications and the centromere not accessible to our data and (2) regions where our sample is highly divergent from the reference due to large indels, structural variation, copy number variation, and/or errors in the reference (e.g., some KIR genes that have duplications in HG002).

We have demonstrated the utility of this benchmark to assess performance in more challenging regions, which enables benchmarking in more difficult genes and continued technology and bioinformatics development.

Authors: Justin Wagner, Nathan D Olson, Lindsay Harris, Ziad Khan, Jesse Farek, Medhat Mahmoud, Ana Stankovic, Vladimir Kovacevic, Aaron M Wenger, William J Rowell, Chunlin Xiao, Byunggil Yoo, Neil Miller, Jeffrey A. Rosenfeld, Bohan Ni, Samanth, Giuseppe Narzisi, Marta Byrska-Bishop, Wayne Clarke, Uday S. Evani, Charles Markello, Kishwar Shafin, Xin Zhou, Arend Sidow, Vikas Bansal, Alvaro Martinez Barrio, Ian T Fiddes, Arkarachai Fungtammasan, Chen-Shan Chin, Fritz J Sedlazeck