Comparability of reference-based and reference-free transcriptome analysis approaches at the gene expression level
Background Lately, high-throughput RNA sequencing has been extensively used to elucidate the transcriptome landscape and dynamics of cell types of different species. In particular, for most non-model organisms lacking complete reference genomes with high-quality annotation of genetic information, reference-free (RF) de novo transcriptome analyses, rather than reference-based (RB) approaches, are widely used, and RF analyses have substantially contributed toward understanding the mechanisms
... ating key biological processes and functions. To date, numerous bioinformatics studies have been conducted for assessing the workflow, production rate, and completeness of transcriptome assemblies within and between RF and RB datasets. However, the degree of consistency and variability of results obtained by analyzing gene expression levels through these two different approaches have not been adequately documented. Results In the present study, we evaluated the differences in expression profiles obtained with RF and RB approaches and revealed that the former tends to be satisfactorily replaced by the latter with respect to transcriptome repertoires, as well as from a gene expression quantification perspective. In addition, we urge cautious interpretation of these findings. Several genes that are lowly expressed, have long coding sequences, or belong to large gene families must be validated carefully, whenever gene expression levels are calculated using the RF method. Conclusions Our empirical results indicate important contributions toward addressing transcriptome-related biological questions in non-model organisms.