Solving the Minimal Positional Substring Cover Problem in Sublinear Space

Authors Paola Bonizzoni , Christina Boucher , Davide Cozzi , Travis Gagie , Yuri Pirola

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Author Details

Paola Bonizzoni
  • Department of Computer Science, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy
Christina Boucher
  • Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA
Davide Cozzi
  • Department of Computer Science, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy
Travis Gagie
  • Faculty of Computer Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada
Yuri Pirola
  • Department of Computer Science, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy

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Paola Bonizzoni, Christina Boucher, Davide Cozzi, Travis Gagie, and Yuri Pirola. Solving the Minimal Positional Substring Cover Problem in Sublinear Space. In 35th Annual Symposium on Combinatorial Pattern Matching (CPM 2024). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 296, pp. 12:1-12:16, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2024)


Within the field of haplotype analysis, the Positional Burrows-Wheeler Transform (PBWT) stands out as a key innovation, addressing numerous challenges in genomics. For example, Sanaullah et al. introduced a PBWT-based method that addresses the haplotype threading problem, which involves representing a query haplotype through a minimal set of substrings. To solve this problem using the PBWT data structure, they formulate the Minimal Positional Substring Cover (MPSC) problem, and then, subsequently present a solution for it. Additionally, they present and solve several variants of this problem: k-MPSC, leftmost MPSC, rightmost MPSC, and length-maximal MPSC. Yet, a full PBWT is required for each of their solutions, which yields a significant memory usage requirement. Here, we take advantage of the latest results on run-length encoding the PBWT, to solve the MPSC in a sublinear amount of space. Our methods involve demonstrating that k-Set Maximal Exact Matches (k-SMEMs) can be computed in a sublinear amount of space via efficient computation of k-Matching Statistics (k-MS). This leads to a solution that requires sublinear space for, not only the MPSC problem, but for all its variations proposed by Sanaullah et al. Most importantly, we present experimental results on haplotype panels from the 1000 Genomes Project data that show the utility of these theoretical results. We conclusively demonstrate that our approach markedly decreases the memory required to solve the MPSC problem, achieving a reduction of at least two orders of magnitude compared to the method proposed by Sanaullah et al. This efficiency allows us to solve the problem on large versions of the problem, where other methods are unable to scale to. In summary, the creation of {μ}-PBWT paves the way for new possibilities in conducting in-depth genetic research and analysis on a large scale. All source code is publicly available at

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Data structures design and analysis
  • Positional Burrows-Wheeler Transform
  • r-index
  • minimal position substring cover
  • set-maximal exact matches


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