Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

Improved base-calling and quality scores for 454 sequencing based on a Hurdle Poisson model

Kristof De Beuf1*, Joachim De Schrijver1, Olivier Thas12, Wim Van Criekinge1, Rafael A Irizarry3 and Lieven Clement45*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Mathematical Modelling, Statistics and Bioinformatics, Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, B9000 Ghent, Belgium

2 Centre for Statistical and Survey Methodology, School of Mathematics and Applied Statistics, University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia

3 Department of Biostatistics, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe St., Baltimore, MD, USA

4 Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, Ghent University, Krijgslaan 281-S9, B9000 Ghent, Belgium

5 Interuniversity Institute for Biostatistics and Statistical Bioinformatics, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and Universiteit Hasselt, Kapucijnenvoer 35, Blok D, bus 7001, B3000 Leuven, Belgium

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BMC Bioinformatics 2012, 13:303  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-303

Published: 15 November 2012



454 pyrosequencing is a commonly used massively parallel DNA sequencing technology with a wide variety of application fields such as epigenetics, metagenomics and transcriptomics. A well-known problem of this platform is its sensitivity to base-calling insertion and deletion errors, particularly in the presence of long homopolymers. In addition, the base-call quality scores are not informative with respect to whether an insertion or a deletion error is more likely. Surprisingly, not much effort has been devoted to the development of improved base-calling methods and more intuitive quality scores for this platform.


We present HPCall, a 454 base-calling method based on a weighted Hurdle Poisson model. HPCall uses a probabilistic framework to call the homopolymer lengths in the sequence by modeling well-known 454 noise predictors. Base-calling quality is assessed based on estimated probabilities for each homopolymer length, which are easily transformed to useful quality scores.


Using a reference data set of the Escherichia coli K-12 strain, we show that HPCall produces superior quality scores that are very informative towards possible insertion and deletion errors, while maintaining a base-calling accuracy that is better than the current one. Given the generality of the framework, HPCall has the potential to also adapt to other homopolymer-sensitive sequencing technologies.