Improved noninvasive fetal variant calling using standardized benchmarking approaches

Tom Rabinowitz, Shira Deri-Rozov, Noam Shomron*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The technology of noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT) enables risk-free detection of genetic conditions in the fetus, by analysis of cell-free DNA (cfDNA) in maternal blood. For chromosomal abnormalities, NIPT often effectively replaces invasive tests (e.g. amniocentesis), although it is considered as screening rather than diagnostics. Most recently, the NIPT has been applied to genome-wide, comprehensive genotyping of the fetus using cfDNA, i.e. identifying all its genetic variants and mutations. Previously, we suggested that NIPD should be treated as a special case of variant calling, and presented Hoobari, the first software tool for noninvasive fetal variant calling. Using a unique pipeline, we were able to comprehensively decipher the inheritance of SNPs and indels. A few caveats still exist in this pipeline. Performance was lower for indels and biparental loci (i.e. where both parents carry the same mutation), and performance was not uniform across the genome. Here we utilized standardized methods for benchmarking of variant calling pipelines and applied them to noninvasive fetal variant calling. By using the best performing pipeline and by focusing on coding regions, we showed that noninvasive fetal genotyping greatly improves performance, particularly in indels and biparental loci. These results emphasize the importance of using widely accepted concepts to describe the challenge of genome-wide NIPT of point mutations; and demonstrate a benchmarking process for the first time in this field. This study brings genome-wide and complete NIPD closer to the clinic; while potentially alleviating uncertainty and anxiety during pregnancy, and promoting informed choices among families and physicians.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-517
Number of pages9
JournalComputational and Structural Biotechnology Journal
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • NIPD
  • NIPT
  • Noninvasive prenatal diagnosis
  • Variant calling
  • cell-free DNA
  • cfDNA


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