Background: Many computational methods are available for assembly and annotation of newly sequenced microbial genomes. However, when new genomes are reported in the literature, there is frequently very little critical analysis of choices made during the sequence assembly and gene annotation stages. These choices have a direct impact on the biologically relevant products of a genomic analysis--for instance identification of common and differentiating regions among genomes in a comparison, or identification of enriched gene functional categories in a specific strain. Here, we examine the outcomes of different assembly and analysis steps in typical workflows in a comparison among strains of Vibrio vulnificus.
Results: Using six recently sequenced strains of V. vulnificus, we demonstrate the "alternate realities" of comparative genomics, and how they depend on the choice of a robust assembly method and accurate ab initio annotation. We apply several popular assemblers for paired-end Illumina data, and three well-regarded ab initio genefinders. We demonstrate significant differences in detected gene overlap among comparative genomics workflows that depend on these two steps. The divergence between workflows, even those using widely adopted methods, is obvious both at the single genome level and when a comparison is performed. In a typical example where multiple workflows are applied to the strain V. vulnificus CECT 4606, a workflow that uses the Velvet assembler and Glimmer gene finder identifies 3275 gene features, while a workflow that uses the Velvet assembler and the RAST annotation system identifies 5011 gene features. Only 3171 genes are identical between both workflows. When we examine 9 assembly/annotation workflow scenarios as input to a three-way genome comparison, differentiating genes and even differentially represented functional categories change significantly from scenario to scenario.
Conclusions: Inconsistencies in genomic analysis can arise depending on the choices that are made during the assembly and annotation stages. These inconsistencies can have a significant impact on the interpretation of an individual genome's content. The impact is multiplied when comparison of content and function among multiple genomes is the goal. Tracking the analysis history of the data--its analytic provenance--is critical for reproducible analysis of genome data.