Using multiple reference genomes to identify and resolve annotation inconsistencies

Patrick J. Monnahan, Jean Michel Michno, Christine O'Connor, Alex B. Brohammer, Nathan M. Springer, Suzanne E. McGaugh, Candice N. Hirsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Advances in sequencing technologies have led to the release of reference genomes and annotations for multiple individuals within more well-studied systems. While each of these new genome assemblies shares significant portions of synteny between each other, the annotated structure of gene models within these regions can differ. Of particular concern are split-gene misannotations, in which a single gene is incorrectly annotated as two distinct genes or two genes are incorrectly annotated as a single gene. These misannotations can have major impacts on functional prediction, estimates of expression, and many downstream analyses. Results: We developed a high-throughput method based on pairwise comparisons of annotations that detect potential split-gene misannotations and quantifies support for whether the genes should be merged into a single gene model. We demonstrated the utility of our method using gene annotations of three reference genomes from maize (B73, PH207, and W22), a difficult system from an annotation perspective due to the size and complexity of the genome. On average, we found several hundred of these potential split-gene misannotations in each pairwise comparison, corresponding to 3-5% of gene models across annotations. To determine which state (i.e. one gene or multiple genes) is biologically supported, we utilized RNAseq data from 10 tissues throughout development along with a novel metric and simulation framework. The methods we have developed require minimal human interaction and can be applied to future assemblies to aid in annotation efforts. Conclusions: Split-gene misannotations occur at appreciable frequency in maize annotations. We have developed a method to easily identify and correct these misannotations. Importantly, this method is generic in that it can utilize any type of short-read expression data. Failure to account for split-gene misannotations has serious consequences for biological inference, particularly for expression-based analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number281
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 8 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).


  • Annotation
  • Genome assembly
  • Maize
  • Split-gene


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