I am reading a book about RNAseq analysis and it says

"To calculate the probability that a read will map to a specific gene, we can assume an average gene size of 4000 nt (100 M nt divided by 25,000 genes). At 30 M reads equivalent to 30× coverage, at single read 100 nt (or paired-end read 50 nt) length, we can expect a single read to map to the average expressed and length gene 4000 nt× 30 coverage/100 nt 1200 times. Thus, if the gene is expressed at a level of 1/1200 compared to the average gene, then we have a 50:50 probability to have a read map to it."

I understand that a single read would map to the average expressed 1200 times but I don't understand how the 50:50 probability is calculated. Please could you explain how this probability is determined.


1 Answer 1


I actually disagree with that.. I guess I write this down as a discussion.

The expected value for an average gene is 1200. For this gene at 1/1200 expression, you expect 1 read.

However, because of sampling, sometimes you get 0, 1 or 2. If we assume the sampling follows a poisson distribution, we can calculate the probability of getting 0, 1 , 2 ... reads:

plot(dpois(0:10,lambda=1),ylab="Probability",xlab="No of reads")

enter image description here

The probabilities are like:


  n           p
1 0 0.367879441
2 1 0.367879441
3 2 0.183939721
4 3 0.061313240
5 4 0.015328310
6 5 0.003065662

The probability of getting exactly 0 or 1 read should be ~0.37. The probability of getting at least 1 read would be 1 - P(n=0) = 1- 0.367879441 = 0.6321206

  • $\begingroup$ I guess the author just assumes uniform distribution instead of poisson. $\endgroup$
    – haci
    Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ possible.. but why 50:50 ? $\endgroup$
    – StupidWolf
    Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 14:20
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I was curious about this question but didn't know what the distribution would be, so I left a very clumsy monte-carlo simulation running yesterday. After about 8,500 iterations I get exactly these values. $\endgroup$
    – Jesse
    Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ One other thing: Could the author have taken the probability determined for the lambda=1200 value of getting >=1200 (about 50%) and incorrectly assumed it'd stay the same for lambda=1? $\endgroup$
    – Jesse
    Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ There are a lot of back-of-the-envelope calculations in the original statement. I don't think 50:50 is supposed to be an exact number. The point is that you cannot be very confident in detecting that gene. $\endgroup$
    – burger
    Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 19:29

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