R package for generating theoretical GC content curves for the FASTQC module
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R package for generating theoretical GC content curves for the FASTQC module

The generateDistn function will create a theoretical distribution from a genome or transcriptome, and then write this out to a file which can be read by MultiQC, to be plotted over the GC content curves. The function randomly samples n=1 million simulated reads (default 100bp) to generate the theoretical distribution.

See ?generateDistn for more details on the function.

See the example file inst/script/human_mouse.R for examples of generating human and mouse genome and transcriptome theoretical distributions (the output files are also included there).


An example of generating a transcriptome theoretical distribution is:

hs.txs <- extractTranscriptSeqs(Hsapiens, TxDb.Hsapiens.UCSC.hg38.knownGene)
              name="Human Transcriptome (UCSC hg38)")


The function generates reads uniformly from the sequences or chromosomes provided. So, for the transcriptome, the example files involve generation of reads from all the transcripts (with counts proportional to the length of the transcripts). Genes with more isoforms are contributing more reads. You could pick a single isoform per gene, or you could use the weights to generate reads proportional to estimated transcript expression from an RNA-seq experiment.

The reads are generated from all positions of the sequences (allowing for the read length). They do not take into account fragment length distribution or any kind of positional bias.

For the transcriptome / RNA-seq, the read starts do not take into account random hexamer bias, but are uniform across the transcripts.

From my personal research into DNA-seq and RNA-seq sequence bias, I believe that these simplifying assumptions are not of practical consquence for coming up with a theoretical distribution of GC content for quality control testing purposes.

If however, you want to plot the observed over expected GC content distribution for RNA-seq taking all of these other biases into acccount, you could use the Biconductor package alpine, which implements the methods of this paper, and the plotGC function. The estimated fragment rate over GC is plotted, conditioned on sample-specific transcript expression, positional bias, random hexamer priming bias, etc.