RNAconTest: Comparing tools for non-coding RNA multiple sequence alignment based on structural consistency

Erik Scott Wright. RNAconTest: Comparing tools for non-coding RNA multiple sequence alignment based on structural consistency.  RNA. 2020 Jan 31. pii: rna.073015.119. doi: 10.1261/rna.073015.119

The importance of non-coding RNA sequences has become increasingly clear over the past decade. New RNA families are often detected and analyzed using comparative methods based on multiple sequence alignments. Accordingly, a number of programs have been developed for aligning and deriving secondary structures from sets of RNA sequences. Yet, the best tools for these tasks remain unclear because existing benchmarks contain too few sequences belonging to only a small number of RNA families. RNAconTest (RNA consistency test) is a new benchmarking approach relying on the observation that secondary structure is often conserved across highly divergent RNA sequences from the same family. RNAconTest scores multiple sequence alignments based on the level of consistency among known secondary structures belonging to reference sequences in their output alignment. Similarly, consensus secondary structure predictions are scored according to their agreement with one or more known structures in a family. Comparing the performance of 10 popular alignment programs using RNAconTest revealed that DAFS, DECIPHER, LocARNA, and MAFFT created the most structurally consistent alignments. The best consensus secondary structure predictions were generated by DAFS and LocARNA (via RNAalifold). Many of the methods specific to non-coding RNAs exhibited poor scalability as the number or length of input sequences increased, and several programs displayed substantial declines in score as more sequences were aligned. Overall, RNAconTest provides a means of testing and improving tools for comparative RNA analysis, as well as highlighting the best available approaches. RNAconTest is available from the DECIPHER website <http://DECIPHER.codes/Downloads.html>.

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Erik Scott Wright.
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