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Open Access Open Badges Methodology article

ParticleCall: A particle filter for base calling in next-generation sequencing systems

Xiaohu Shen and Haris Vikalo*

Author Affiliations

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station C0803, TX, 78712-0240, US

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BMC Bioinformatics 2012, 13:160  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-160

Published: 9 July 2012



Next-generation sequencing systems are capable of rapid and cost-effective DNA sequencing, thus enabling routine sequencing tasks and taking us one step closer to personalized medicine. Accuracy and lengths of their reads, however, are yet to surpass those provided by the conventional Sanger sequencing method. This motivates the search for computationally efficient algorithms capable of reliable and accurate detection of the order of nucleotides in short DNA fragments from the acquired data.


In this paper, we consider Illumina’s sequencing-by-synthesis platform which relies on reversible terminator chemistry and describe the acquired signal by reformulating its mathematical model as a Hidden Markov Model. Relying on this model and sequential Monte Carlo methods, we develop a parameter estimation and base calling scheme called ParticleCall. ParticleCall is tested on a data set obtained by sequencing phiX174 bacteriophage using Illumina’s Genome Analyzer II. The results show that the developed base calling scheme is significantly more computationally efficient than the best performing unsupervised method currently available, while achieving the same accuracy.


The proposed ParticleCall provides more accurate calls than the Illumina’s base calling algorithm, Bustard. At the same time, ParticleCall is significantly more computationally efficient than other recent schemes with similar performance, rendering it more feasible for high-throughput sequencing data analysis. Improvement of base calling accuracy will have immediate beneficial effects on the performance of downstream applications such as SNP and genotype calling.

ParticleCall is freely available at webcite.