[Bioc-devel] read.XStringSet with spaces in or at end of sequence

Hervé Pagès hpages at fhcrc.org
Tue May 22 21:39:14 CEST 2012

Hi Thomas,

On 05/22/2012 10:58 AM, Thomas Girke wrote:
> Currently, spaces in sequences are handled inconsistently by the FASTA
> read functions in Biostrings. This applies to spaces in or at the end of
> sequence strings. Because of this users often think Biostrings cannot
> handle their sequence data and give up using it which I find
> unfortunate.
> For instance, given this sequence stored in "test.fasta":
>> 123
> read.DNAStringSet fails to import this sequence which is the
> least desirable outcome.
>> read.DNAStringSet("test.fasta")
> Error in .Call2("read_fasta_in_XStringSet", efp_list, nrec, skip, use.names,  :
>    key 32 (char ' ') not in lookup table
> however, read.AAStringSet imports it but maintains the space
>> read.AAStringSet("test.fasta")
>    A AAStringSet instance of length 1
>        width seq                                               names
>        [1]    13 AATTTAAA GGGG                                     123

Note that this doesn't fail because the letters in an AAStringSet
object can be anything right now, but it's on my TODO list to change
this i.e. it will become an error to try to store a letter in an
AAStringSet that doesn't belong to the Amino Acid alphabet (stored
in predefined constant AA_ALPHABET).

So the import function to use when one doesn't want to enforce a
particular alphabet is read.BStringSet():

   > read.BStringSet("test.fasta")
     A BStringSet instance of length 1
       width seq                                               names 

   [1]    13 AATTTAAA GGGG                                      123

The other functions in the family (i.e. read.DNAStringSet,
read.RNAStringSet, and read.AAStringSet) will fail if the FASTA file
contains letters that are not in DNA_ALPHABET, RNA_ALPHABET, or
AA_ALPHABET, respectively.

> Wouldn't it make most sense to remove/ignore spaces during the import?

According to Wikipeddia


yes the spaces and any other invalid code should be ignored. My concern
with this behavior though is that removing/ignoring letters in the input 
will shift the positions of all the remaining letters, which for
some use cases is not desirable (maybe everything is fine because all
the letters end up at the right position anyway, but maybe not, hard
to tell without knowing why a space was inserted in the file in the
first place).

Note that we have special letters in the DNA/RNA/AA alphabets that
could be used as a replacement for invalid chars:

    [1] "A" "C" "G" "T" "M" "R" "W" "S" "Y" "K" "V" "H" "D" "B" "N" "-" "+"
    [1] "A" "C" "G" "U" "M" "R" "W" "S" "Y" "K" "V" "H" "D" "B" "N" "-" "+"
    [1] "A" "R" "N" "D" "C" "Q" "E" "G" "H" "I" "L" "K" "M" "F" "P" "S" 
"T" "W" "Y"
   [20] "V" "U" "B" "Z" "X" "*" "-" "+"

"-" stands for "gap" and "+" is used for hard masking. IMO they are
both reasonable candidates. I propose to add an extra arg (e.g.
if.invalid.char) to read.DNAStringSet, read.RNAStringSet, and
read.AAStringSet to let the user choose what the substitution letter
should be, e.g. if.invalid.char="+", or if.invalid.char="" (for
removing the invalid letters).

Now should we set its default to "" (and strictly follow the FASTA
spec), or should we set it to NA so by default an error would still
be raised if the file contains invalid chars? I prefer the latter
because I think it's good to let the user know that there is something
uncommon (at best) or potentially wrong with the file.

Thanks for your feedback,

> Thomas
>> sessionInfo()
> R version 2.15.0 (2012-03-30)
> Platform: x86_64-apple-darwin9.8.0/x86_64 (64-bit)
> locale:
> [1] en_US.UTF-8/en_US.UTF-8/en_US.UTF-8/C/en_US.UTF-8/en_US.UTF-8
> attached base packages:
> [1] stats     graphics  grDevices utils     datasets  methods   base
> other attached packages:
> [1] Biostrings_2.24.1  IRanges_1.14.2     BiocGenerics_0.2.0
> loaded via a namespace (and not attached):
> [1] stats4_2.15.0 tools_2.15.0
> _______________________________________________
> Bioc-devel at r-project.org mailing list
> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/bioc-devel

Hervé Pagès

Program in Computational Biology
Division of Public Health Sciences
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
1100 Fairview Ave. N, M1-B514
P.O. Box 19024
Seattle, WA 98109-1024

E-mail: hpages at fhcrc.org
Phone:  (206) 667-5791
Fax:    (206) 667-1319

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