Background: Mutations that alter chromosomal structure play critical roles in evolution and disease, including in the origin of new lifestyles and pathogenic traits in microbes. Large-scale rearrangements in genomes are often mediated by recombination events involving new or existing copies of mobile genetic elements, recently duplicated genes, or other repetitive sequences. Most current software programs for predicting structural variation from short-read DNA resequencing data are intended primarily for use on human genomes. They typically disregard information in reads mapping to repeat sequences, and significant post-processing and manual examination of their output is often required to rule out false-positive predictions and precisely describe mutational events.
Results: We have implemented an algorithm for identifying structural variation from DNA resequencing data as part of the breseq computational pipeline for predicting mutations in haploid microbial genomes. Our method evaluates the support for new sequence junctions present in a clonal sample from split-read alignments to a reference genome, including matches to repeat sequences. Then, it uses a statistical model of read coverage evenness to accept or reject these predictions. Finally, breseq combines predictions of new junctions and deleted chromosomal regions to output biologically relevant descriptions of mutations and their effects on genes. We demonstrate the performance of breseq on simulated Escherichia coli genomes with deletions generating unique breakpoint sequences, new insertions of mobile genetic elements, and deletions mediated by mobile elements. Then, we reanalyze data from an E. coli K-12 mutation accumulation evolution experiment in which structural variation was not previously identified. Transposon insertions and large-scale chromosomal changes detected by breseq account for ~25% of spontaneous mutations in this strain. In all cases, we find that breseq is able to reliably predict structural variation with modest read-depth coverage of the reference genome (>40-fold).
Conclusions: Using breseq to predict structural variation should be useful for studies of microbial epidemiology, experimental evolution, synthetic biology, and genetics when a reference genome for a closely related strain is available. In these cases, breseq can discover mutations that may be responsible for important or unintended changes in genomes that might otherwise go undetected.