Recent studies used the contact data or three-dimensional (3D) genome reconstructions from Hi-C (chromosome conformation capture with next-generation sequencing) to assess the co-localization of functional genomic annotations in the nucleus. These analyses dichotomized data point pairs belonging to a functional annotation as "close" or "far" based on some threshold and then tested for enrichment of "close" pairs. We propose an alternative approach that avoids dichotomization of the data and instead directly estimates the significance of distances within the 3D reconstruction.
We applied this approach to 3D genome reconstructions for Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of malaria, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae and compared the results to previous approaches. We found significant 3D co-localization of centromeres, telomeres, virulence genes, and several sets of genes with developmentally regulated expression in P. falciparum; and significant 3D co-localization of centromeres and long terminal repeats in S. cerevisiae. Additionally, we tested the experimental observation that telomeres form three to seven clusters in P. falciparum and S. cerevisiae. Applying affinity propagation clustering to telomere coordinates in the 3D reconstructions yielded six telomere clusters for both organisms.
Distance-based assessment replicated key findings, while avoiding dichotomization of the data (which previously yielded threshold-sensitive results).