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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

A Hidden Markov Model for identifying essential and growth-defect regions in bacterial genomes from transposon insertion sequencing data

Michael A DeJesus* and Thomas R Ioerger

Author Affiliations

Department of Computer Science, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:303  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-303

Published: 8 October 2013



Knowledge of which genes are essential to the survival of an organism is critical to understanding the function of genes, and for the identification of potential drug targets for antimicrobial treatment. Previous statistical methods for assessing essentiality based on sequencing of tranposon libraries have usually limited their assessment to strict 'essential’ or 'non-essential’ categories. However, this binary view of essentiality does not accurately represent the more nuanced ways the growth of an organism might be affected by the disruption of its genes. In addition, these methods often limit their analysis to open-reading frames. We propose a novel method for analyzing sequence data from transposon mutant libraries using a Hidden Markov Model (HMM), along with formulas to adapt the parameters of the model to different datasets for robustness. This approach allows for the clustering of insertion sites into distinct regions of essentiality across the entire genome in a statistically rigorous manner, while also allowing for the detection of growth-defect and growth-advantage regions.


We evaluate the performance of a 4-state HMM on a sequence dataset of M. tuberculosis transposon mutants. We also test the HMM on several synthetic datasets representing different levels of transposon insertion density and sequence coverage. We show that the HMM produces results that are highly correlated with previous assignments of essentiality for this organism. We also show that it detects growth-defect and growth-advantage genes previously shown to impair or enhance growth when disrupted.


A 4-state HMM provides an improved way of analyzing Tn-seq data and assessing different levels of essentiality that enables not only the characterization of essential and non-essential genes, but also genes whose disruption leads to impairment (or enhancement) of growth.

Next-generation sequencing; Sequence analysis; Hidden Markov Models; Essentiality