Review of refined minimizes

These are my review-like notes on refined minimizers, introduced in Pan and Reinert (2024).


The paper introduces refined minimizers, a new scheme for sampling canonical minimizers that is less biased than the usual scheme.

  • Instead of taking the minimum of the minimizer of the forward and reverse strand, the minimizer of the strand with the higher GT density is chosen.
  • The less bias towards small minimizers causes a more equal distribution of frequency of selected kmers.

Main issues

  • The methods contain a number of mistakes in the math and proofs.
  • The limit to \(|s|\) needs to be made much more precise. In fact it is a \(k\to\infty\) limit (rather than a \(w\to\infty\) limit), which seems not as useful in practice.
  • A comparison to NtHash2 should be made, for both kmer frequency distribution and speed.
  • The provided code (github:xp3i4/mini_benchmark) segfaults and is undocumented.

1. Introduction

  • the minimizer concept is a data structure: to me, minimizers by themselves are not a data structure.
  • \(w>k\): not needed. \(w\geq 1\) is sufficient.
  • In many places, \citep citations like (Pan and Reinert 2024) would have been more appropriate then \citet ones like Pan and Reinert (2024).
  • of a predefined ordering scheme: the minimum of/over some set with respect to some ordering scheme.
  • nitpicky imprecision: \(X\) is the set of positions of kmers, not simply the set of kmer strings themselves. (Or I suppose \(X\) could be a list of kmers.) (Otherwise we have \(|X| \leq 4^k\) and \(|S|\to\infty\) so that \(\rho\to 0\).)
  • a k-mer \(X = x\) => Why not just \(x\)? The notation is confusing.
  • \(n(x)/|S|\) is not really an average (there is only one string \(S\)); rather it’s a density.
  • The definition of \(V\) is not clear to me. What is random? What is counted?
  • 3. Its density converges => For \(w\to \infty\) or \(k\to\infty\) or both?
  • CMP (branch conditions) can be one of the slowest instructions on modern hardware. Branch misses in an inner loop for minimizer computation can severely affect performance.
  • Simple operations and L1 accesses can be pipelined and latency can be hidden, making them take 2-4x time less in practice. This makes branch-misses up to 4 times as bad, relatively.
  • Are lexicographic minimizers used much in practice?

2. Methods

There are a number of mistaken in the math here here and some unclarities that could use fixing.

  • The ‘standard’ definition of minimizers as \(\min_i \{ \min(s_i, s’_i)\}\) indeed has a strong bias to small values. This can also be fixed by replacing the inner minimum by a sum or xor, as done by NtHash (Mohamadi et al. 2016). This removes branches.

  • A sign change of \(\delta\) in the example would have been cool.

  • Property 3:

    • It is not clear which variables are ‘independent’ and which are ‘dependent’ on others. It would be cleaner and clearer to write everything in terms of \(w\) and \(k\), take the length of \(s\) to be \(n=w+k\).
    • The notation suggests that \(s\) is a window of \(w\) consecutive $k$-mers, but in fact, \(s\) is only the characters corresponding to \(2\) consecutive $k$-mers.
    • The $n$th and $n+1$th subsequences => \(s\) only has two subsequences, and \(s_n\) is actually the first subsequence. Why not just \(s_0\) and \(s_1\)?
    • Only at the end of the proof I realize: the limit is over \(k \to \infty\). This is quite unclear.
    • Equation 5: Rewrite the limit as \(k\to\infty\). on \(n\). It is sufficient to consider the two windows of a \(w+k\) long random string \(s\).
    • Proof: the result from Schleimer, Wilkerson, and Aiken (2003) is used, but this only

    holds for \(k \geq (3+\epsilon)\log_\sigma w\). See section 2.3 of Marçais et al. (2017).

    • the probability of each case is \(1/(w+1)\).: This is false. The probability of each case is \(1/w\). But the two events are not independent. And the probability that one or the other happens does work out as \(2/(w+1)\).
    • The binomials need better formatting. Use \binom{n}{k}, not left and right parentheses.
    • The limits of the two probabilities equal 0: again, clarify that this is the \(k\to\infty\) limit.
  • I don’t understand how equation 7 follows from the proof above. The \(P(\delta_n \delta_{n+1}<0)\) probability should be multiplied by \(P(h_r(s_n) = h_r(s_{n+1}) | \delta_n\delta_{n+1}<0)\). (That term is close to but not equal to \(1\).)

2.3 heuristic

  • It is argued that density can be dropped by skipping solo windows.

  • Then it is argued that sign changes are exceedingly rare, basically making the heuristic not useful in the limit.

  • … where they significantly increase \(P(\delta_n\delta_{n+1} <0)\) in expression 7: That probability is fixed. Is contribute to instead of increase meant? Either way this statement is not obvious to me. For large \(|s|\) (ie \(k\to\infty\)) the probability goes to \(0\), so what does significant increase mean?

  • Is this solo-skipping heuristic actually used for the results?

  • Some analysis and discussion regarding the heuristic is needed. How much does it affect the performance of refined minimizers?

  • Do formal window guarantees of selecting at least one $k$mer per \(w\) characters still hold? If \(\delta_i = (-1)^i\), all minimizers are dropped?

3. Results

  • The theoretical analysis ignores CPU details such as prefetching, pipelining, and branch predicting. Putting a fixed number on this feels misleading.

  • It is not clear whether the streaming or single-instance computation is analysed here.

  • Alg 1 & 2:

    • The code in both algorithms seemingly assumes the previous window has already been computed. This is not at all clear from the description. There is hidden state not mentioned in Input:. I.e. \(h_{n-1,j}\) comes out of nowhere and is never initialized. (Or should there be a for loop around it?)
    • How about memory usage? Are all intermediate \(h_{x,y}\) stored?
  • Results on distribution of kmer frequencies look good! Around 2x less (and sometimes more).

    • Sadly I’m not able to replicate them since the code segfaults.
  • Fig 1 has nice results.

  • Runtime, sample density, and kmer frequency should be compared to NtHash2. Performance benchmarks are not meaningful without comparing to some highly optimized library for finding (canonical) minimizers.

    NtHash2 also provides another solution to the minimizer bias problem and it is useful to know how refined minimizers compares against NtHash2’s solution.

  • The number of minimizers skipped because of sign changes must be analyzed.

    • Very small \(k\) is used, so the probability of sign change is quite large. Maybe the density is low simply because many minimizers are skipped?
  • Plots comparing the kmer selection frequency on random strings for the old and new method would be very helpful. See e.g. Fig S7 in the NtHash2 supplement (Kazemi et al. 2022).


  • Gbps => Gbp (I assume it’s giga-base-pair, not giga-bit-per-second.)

  • How about other ideas such as:?

    • Taking the maximum of [the minimum of forward kmers] and [the minimum of reverse kmers]?
    • Taking the minimum of sum/xor of forward and reverse kmer?


  • Code compiles but segfaults.
  • No usage instructions in readme.
  • No comments or documentation in the code.
  • No explanation on the purpose of the tool or how to reproduce results.

Consider improving these points so others can reproduce the results.


Kazemi, Parham, Johnathan Wong, Vladimir Nikolić, Hamid Mohamadi, René L Warren, and Inanç Birol. 2022. “Nthash2: Recursive Spaced Seed Hashing for Nucleotide Sequences.” Edited by Peter Robinson. Bioinformatics 38 (20): 4812–13.
Marçais, Guillaume, David Pellow, Daniel Bork, Yaron Orenstein, Ron Shamir, and Carl Kingsford. 2017. “Improving the Performance of Minimizers and Winnowing Schemes.” Bioinformatics 33 (14): i110–17.
Mohamadi, Hamid, Justin Chu, Benjamin P. Vandervalk, and Inanc Birol. 2016. “Nthash: Recursive Nucleotide Hashing.” Bioinformatics 32 (22): 3492–94.
Pan, Chenxu, and Knut Reinert. 2024. “A Simple Refined Dna Minimizer Operator Enables Twofold Faster Computation.” Edited by Alfonso Valencia. Bioinformatics, January.
Schleimer, Saul, Daniel S. Wilkerson, and Alex Aiken. 2003. “Winnowing: Local Algorithms for Document Fingerprinting.” In Proceedings of the 2003 Acm Sigmod International Conference on Management of Data. Sigmod/Pods03. ACM.