Detecting microsatellites in genome data: variance in definitions and bioinformatic approaches cause systematic bias

Evol Bioinform Online. 2008 Feb 9;4:1-6. doi: 10.4137/ebo.s420.


Microsatellites are currently one of the most commonly used genetic markers. The application of bioinformatic tools has become common practice in the study of these short tandem repeats (STR). However, in silico studies can suffer from study bias. Using a meta-analysis on microsatellite distribution in yeast we show that estimates of numbers of repeats reported by different studies can differ in the order of several magnitudes, even within a single genome. These differences arise because varying definitions of microsatellites, spanning repeat size, array length and array composition, are used in different search paradigms, with minimum array length being the main influencing factor. Structural differences in the implemented search algorithm additionally contribute to variation in the number of repeats detected. We suggest that for future studies a consistent approach to STR searches is adopted in order to improve the power of intra- and interspecific comparisons.

Keywords: array length; definition; genome; microsatellites; short tandem repeats; study bias.