Source code for the Shifted Hamming Distance (SHD) filtering mechanism for sequence alignment. Described in the Bioinformatics journal paper (2015) by Xin et al. at
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Shifted Hamming Distance

Shifted Hamming Distance (SHD) is an edit-distance based filter that can quickly check whether the minimum number of edits (including insertions, deletions and substitutions) between two strings is smaller than a user defined threshold T (the number of allowed edits between the two strings).

Testing if two stings differs by a small amount is a prevalent function that is used in many applications. One of its biggest usage, perhaps, is in DNA or protein mapping, where a short DNA or protein string is compared against an enormous database, in order to find similar matches. In such applications, a query string is usually compared against multiple candidate strings in the database. Only candidates that are similar to the query are considered matches and recorded.

SHD expands the basic Hamming distance computation, which only detects substitutions, into a full-fledged edit-distance filter, which counts not only substitutions but insertions and deletions as well.

SHD by itself, however, is not an edit-distance calculator. SHD is a filter that detects and filters some of the string pairs that have edit-distances that are greater than T, but it does not validate the string pairs that pass the filter regarding if they have edit-distances smaller than T. In another word, it filters out some incorrect matches while passing some. In a DNA mapper or protein mapper, SHD should be used in combination with an edit-distance calculator, where SHD reduces the number of incorrect matches that reach to the more rigorous edit-distance calculator (or filter).

As a filter, SHD achieves high accuracy with high speed. However, the accuracy drops as the edit-distance threshold T increases. We recommend not setting the edit-distance threshold T greater than 5% of the query string length.

Currently, SHD is implemented using Intel SSE, which uses 128-bit registers. Therefore, we recommend using SHD for query strings that are not longer than 128 letters. SHD can also be easily expanded to support longer query strings using future instruction sets such as AVX2 or AVX512. At the moment of developing this code, however, we do not have a system that supports such ISAs. Hence SHD currently supports a maximum of 128 letters.

Important note: Currently an AVX2 version of SHD is under development. We aim a release date by October 1st. We will start developing an AVX512 version of the program once Intel releases the 2nd generation Xeon Phi cards, the Knights Landing.

Protein sequencing users: Although currently SHD only supports mapping DNA, it can be easily expanded to support protein matching. Please directly contact the author if you need such functionality. Caveat: with SSE, SHD only supports matching strings that are shorter than 128. We understand this length is typically too short for comparing proteins. We hope this problem will be solved once wider SIMD ISAs come out.

GPU support: We do have a premature CUDA version of the program. The development of the GPU version is temporarily on pause so we can focus on pushing forward other ideas. If the demand of a GPU version is high, we will resume the development and push out the code.

The algorithm of SHD is described at: H. Xin et al., Shifted Hamming Distance: A Fast and Accurate SIMD-Friendly Filter to Accelerate Alignment Verification in Read Mapping, Bioinformatics

Getting Started

To build SHD, simply do:

$ make

Running a test

To run a test using SHD, simply do:

$ ./countPassFilter <edit-distance threshold T>

Then type in string pairs that are sent to SHD. Strings are delineated by a new line (\n) character.

Input "end_of_file" to terminate execution.

String pairs that pass SHD is printed out to stderr. After the execution is finished, a summary of the run is printed out to stdout, including the total number of string pairs processed and the total number of string pairs pass SHD.

You can also run SHD by redirecting input from a file. An example input is provided in the repository. To run, simply do:

$ ./countPassFilter <edit-distance threshold T> < example_input

Further Extensions

Notice that this SHD build is specific to DNA strings (which can either be A, C, T or G). To modify SHD for other type of strings, please change the masks in mask.h and mask.c files.


  • Hongyi Xin (Carnegie Mellon University)