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Old 01-22-2015, 10:52 PM   #1
Brian Bushnell
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Location: Walnut Creek, CA

Join Date: Jan 2014
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Default Introducing BBNorm, a read normalization and error-correction tool

I'd like to introduce BBNorm, a member of the BBTools package.

BBNorm is a kmer-based normalization tool for NGS reads, which may also be used for error-correction and generating kmer-frequency plots. It is extremely fast and memory-efficient due to the use of atomic counters and probabilistic data structures.

First, what is normalization? Many assemblers perform poorly in the presence of too much data, and data with irregular coverage, such as MDA-amplified single cells or metagenomes. And even if an assembler performs well with these datasets (Spades, for example, does a very good job with single cells, though still benefits from normalization in my tests), more data will increase the runtime and memory usage, potentially to the point that the data cannot be assembled.

Subsampling randomly discards some percentage of the reads, to reduce the average coverage, and is computationally cheap (you can do that quickly with reformat). However, if you have one area with 10000x coverage and another area with 10x coverage, subsampling to 1% will reduce the 10000x area to 100x - a good level for some assemblers - but the 10x area to 0.1x, which cannot be assembled. So with irregular coverage, it is not ideal!

Normalization discards reads with a probability based on the local coverage. So, for example, if you normalize to a target 40x coverage, reads in regions with 10x coverage will all be retained; in an 80x region they will be discarded with a 0.5 probability; and in a 10000x area they will be discarded with a 0.004 probability. As a result, after normalization, areas with coverage above the target will be reduced to the target, and areas below the target will be left untouched. This generally makes the data much easier to assemble and typically increases continuity (L50) by a substantial amount.

To normalize to 40x coverage with BBNorm, and discard reads with an apparent depth under 2x (which typically indicates the reads have errors): in=reads.fq out=normalized.fq target=40 mindepth=2

Error-correction is also useful in many cases when you have sufficient depth and wish to avoid false-positive variant calls, or achieve a higher mapping rate, or want to merge paired reads via overlap, or assemble high error-rate data with an assembler that is not very tolerant of errors, or reduce the memory usage of a DeBruijn assembler. Like normalization, error-correction is not universally a good idea - JGI does not normalize and error-correct all data prior to use, for example - but it is highly beneficial in many situations. Also, BBNorm only corrects substitution errors, not indels, since that is the error mode that occurs in Illumina data. In other words, it will NOT error-correct PacBio or 454 data, which feature indel errors. BBNorm is currently being used for error-correction by the OLC assembler Omega.

To error-correct reads with BBNorm: in=reads.fq out=corrected.fq

To error-correct and normalize at the same time, just add the flag "ecc" when running BBNorm.

Lastly, BBNorm can be used for producing kmer frequency histograms, and binning reads based on coverage depth. The histograms are useful to determine things like the ploidy of an organism, the genome size and coverage, the heterozygousity rate, and the presence of contaminants (which typically have drastically different coverage than the genome of interest).

To generate a kmer frequency histogram: in=reads.fq hist=histogram.txt

You can also use the "hist" flag during normalization or error-correction, for the histogram of input reads, for free; "histout" will generate the histogram of output reads, but cost an additional pass.

So, what is the difference between,, and They all call the same program, just with different default parameters (you can see the exact parameters by looking at the bottom of the shellscripts). If you specify all parameters manually, they are equivalent.

How does BBNorm work, and why is it better than other tools?

BBNorm counts kmers; by default, 31-mers. It reads the input once to count them. Then it reads the input a second time to process the reads according to their kmer frequencies. For this reason, unlike most other BBTools, BBNorm CANNOT accept piped input. For normalization, it discards reads with probability based on the ratio of the desired coverage to the median of the counts of a read's kmers. For error-correction, situations where there are adjacent kmers in a read with drastically different frequencies - for example, differing by a factor of 180 - are detected; the offending base is altered to a different base, if doing so will restore the kmer to a similar frequency as its adjacent kmers.

BBNorm is memory-efficient because it does not explicitly store kmers - everything is in a probabilistic data structure called a count-min sketch. As a result, BBNorm will never run out of memory, slow down, or use disk, no matter how much data you have or how big the genome is. Rather, the accuracy will decline as the table's loading increases - but because kmers are not explicitly stored, it can store several times more than an explicit data structure (such as Google Sparse Hash). And for normalization, the reduction in accuracy at extremely high loading does not matter, because the median is used - so even if multiple kmers within a read have an incorrectly high count, they will not even be considered, and thus the results will not be affected at all. As a result - in practice, you should use all available memory even for a tiny genome with a small number of reads; but even for a huge genome with very high coverage, BBNorm will still work, and produce good results quickly on a computer with limited memory.

Speedwise, BBNorm is multithreaded in all stages, using atomic counters which do not require locking - this allows it to scale efficiently with processor core counts.

BBTools has another program functionally related to BBNorm, "". It does NOT use probabilistic data structures, and uses locking rather than atomic counters, and as a result may not scale as well, and will run out of memory on large datasets. However, it is still extremely fast and memory-efficient - using ~15 bytes per kmer (with an optional count-min-sketch prefilter to remove low-count error kmers). It cannot normalize or error-correct, but it can generate the exact kmer count of a dataset as well as the exact kmer frequency histogram (and do rudimentary peak calling for genome size estimation). In practice, when I am interested in kmer frequency histograms, I use KmerCountExact for isolates, and BBNorm for metagenomes.

BBNorm (and all BBTools) can be downloaded here:

Edit: Note! Most programs in the BBMap package run in Java 6 or higher, but BBNorm requires Java 7 or higher.

Last edited by Brian Bushnell; 01-29-2015 at 09:47 AM.
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