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Background: RNA viruses infecting a host usually exist as a set of closely related sequences, referred to as quasispecies. The genomic diversity of viral quasispecies is a subject of great interest, particularly for chronic infections, since it can lead to resistance to existing therapies. High-throughput sequencing is a promising approach to characterizing viral diversity, but unfortunately standard assembly software was originally designed for single genome assembly and cannot be used to simultaneously assemble and estimate the abundance of multiple closely related quasispecies sequences.

Results: In this paper, we introduce a new Viral Spectrum Assembler (ViSpA) method for quasispecies spectrum reconstruction and compare it with the state-of-the-art ShoRAH tool on both simulated and real 454 pyrosequencing shotgun reads from HCV and HIV quasispecies. Experimental results show that ViSpA outperforms ShoRAH on simulated error-free reads, correctly assembling 10 out of 10 quasispecies and 29 sequences out of 40 quasispecies. While ShoRAH has a significant advantage over ViSpA on reads simulated with sequencing errors due to its advanced error correction algorithm, ViSpA is better at assembling the simulated reads after they have been corrected by ShoRAH. ViSpA also outperforms ShoRAH on real 454 reads. Indeed, 7 most frequent sequences reconstructed by ViSpA from a real HCV dataset are viable (do not contain internal stop codons), and the most frequent sequence was within 1% of the actual open reading frame obtained by cloning and Sanger sequencing. In contrast, only one of the sequences reconstructed by ShoRAH is viable. On a real HIV dataset, ShoRAH correctly inferred only 2 quasispecies sequences with at most 4 mismatches whereas ViSpA correctly reconstructed 5 quasispecies with at most 2 mismatches, and 2 out of 5 sequences were inferred without any mismatches. ViSpA source code is available at

Conclusions: ViSpA enables accurate viral quasispecies spectrum reconstruction from 454 pyrosequencing reads. We are currently exploring extensions applicable to the analysis of high-throughput sequencing data from bacterial metagenomic samples and ecological samples of eukaryote populations.


This article was originally published in BMC Bioinformatics.

© 2011 Astrovskaya et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.