Detection of structural variants (SVs) from the alignment of sample DNA reads to the reference genome is an important problem in understanding human diseases. Long reads that can span repeat regions, along with an accurate alignment of these long reads play an important role in identifying novel SVs. Long-read sequencers, such as nanopore sequencing, can address this problem by providing very long reads but with high error rates, making accurate alignment challenging. Many errors induced by nanopore sequencing have a bias because of the physics of the sequencing process and proper utilization of these error characteristics can play an important role in designing a robust aligner for SV detection problems. In this article, we design and evaluate HQAlign, an aligner for SV detection using nanopore sequenced reads. The key ideas of HQAlign include (i) using base-called nanopore reads along with the nanopore physics to improve alignments for SVs, (ii) incorporating SV-specific changes to the alignment pipeline, and (iii) adapting these into existing state-of-the-art long-read aligner pipeline, minimap2 (v2.24), for efficient alignments.


We show that HQAlign captures about 4%–6% complementary SVs across different datasets, which are missed by minimap2 alignments while having a standalone performance at par with minimap2 for real nanopore reads data. For the common SV calls between HQAlign and minimap2, HQAlign improves the start and the end breakpoint accuracy by about 10%–50% for SVs across different datasets. Moreover, HQAlign improves the alignment rate to 89.35% from minimap2 85.64% for nanopore reads alignment to recent telomere-to-telomere CHM13 assembly, and it improves to 86.65% from 83.48% for nanopore reads alignment to GRCh37 human genome.

Availability and implementation

This work is written by (a) US Government employee(s) and is in the public domain in the US.