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Open Access Research

Statistical methods for detecting periodic fragments in DNA sequence data

Julien Epps1*, Hua Ying23 and Gavin A Huttley2*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia

2 John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia

3 Plant Industry, CSIRO, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia

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Biology Direct 2011, 6:21  doi:10.1186/1745-6150-6-21

Published: 28 April 2011

Abstract

Background

Period 10 dinucleotides are structurally and functionally validated factors that influence the ability of DNA to form nucleosomes, histone core octamers. Robust identification of periodic signals in DNA sequences is therefore required to understand nucleosome organisation in genomes. While various techniques for identifying periodic components in genomic sequences have been proposed or adopted, the requirements for such techniques have not been considered in detail and confirmatory testing for a priori specified periods has not been developed.

Results

We compared the estimation accuracy and suitability for confirmatory testing of autocorrelation, discrete Fourier transform (DFT), integer period discrete Fourier transform (IPDFT) and a previously proposed Hybrid measure. A number of different statistical significance procedures were evaluated but a blockwise bootstrap proved superior. When applied to synthetic data whose period-10 signal had been eroded, or for which the signal was approximately period-10, the Hybrid technique exhibited superior properties during exploratory period estimation. In contrast, confirmatory testing using the blockwise bootstrap procedure identified IPDFT as having the greatest statistical power. These properties were validated on yeast sequences defined from a ChIP-chip study where the Hybrid metric confirmed the expected dominance of period-10 in nucleosome associated DNA but IPDFT identified more significant occurrences of period-10. Application to the whole genomes of yeast and mouse identified ~ 21% and ~ 19% respectively of these genomes as spanned by period-10 nucleosome positioning sequences (NPS).

Conclusions

For estimating the dominant period, we find the Hybrid period estimation method empirically to be the most effective for both eroded and approximate periodicity. The blockwise bootstrap was found to be effective as a significance measure, performing particularly well in the problem of period detection in the presence of eroded periodicity. The autocorrelation method was identified as poorly suited for use with the blockwise bootstrap. Application of our methods to the genomes of two model organisms revealed a striking proportion of the yeast and mouse genomes are spanned by NPS. Despite their markedly different sizes, roughly equivalent proportions (19-21%) of the genomes lie within period-10 spans of the NPS dinucleotides {AA, TT, TA}. The biological significance of these regions remains to be demonstrated. To facilitate this, the genomic coordinates are available as Additional files 1, 2, and 3 in a format suitable for visualisation as tracks on popular genome browsers.

Reviewers

This article was reviewed by Prof Tomas Radivoyevitch, Dr Vsevolod Makeev (nominated by Dr Mikhail Gelfand), and Dr Rob D Knight.