Practical selection of representative sets of RNA-seq samples using a hierarchical approach


Despite numerous RNA-seq samples available at large databases, most RNA-seq analysis tools are evaluated on a limited number of RNA-seq samples. This drives a need for methods to select a representative subset from all available RNA-seq samples to facilitate comprehensive, unbiased evaluation of bioinformatics tools. In sequence-based approaches for representative set selection (e.g. a k-mer counting approach that selects a subset based on k-mer similarities between RNA-seq samples), because of the huge number of available RNA-seq samples and the large number of k-mers/sequences in each sample, computing the full similarity matrix between all samples using k-mers/sequences for the entire set of RNA-seq samples in a large database (e.g. the SRA) has memory and runtime challenges, making direct representative set selection infeasible with limited computing resources. Therefore, we developed a novel computational method called “hierarchical representative set selection” to handle this challenge. Hierarchical representative set selection is a divide-and-conquer-like algorithm that breaks the representative set selection into sub-selections and hierarchically selects representative samples through multiple levels. We demonstrate that hierarchical representative set selection can achieve performance close to that of direct representative set selection, while largely reducing the runtime and memory requirements of computing the full similarity matrix (up to 8.4X runtime reduction and 4.7X memory reduction for 10000 samples that could be practically run with direct subset selection). We show that hierarchical representative set selection substantially outperforms random sampling on the entire SRA set of RNA-seq samples, making it a practical solution to representative set selection on large databases such as the SRA.