PLoS Genet. 2023 Oct 20;19(10):e1010983. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1010983. Online ahead of print.
In high-throughput spatial transcriptomics (ST) studies, it is of great interest to identify the genes whose level of expression in a tissue covaries with the spatial location of cells/spots. Such genes, also known as spatially variable genes (SVGs), can be crucial to the biological understanding of both structural and functional characteristics of complex tissues. Existing methods for detecting SVGs either suffer from huge computational demand or significantly lack statistical power. We propose a non-parametric method termed SMASH that achieves a balance between the above two problems. We compare SMASH with other existing methods in varying simulation scenarios demonstrating its superior statistical power and robustness. We apply the method to four ST datasets from different platforms uncovering interesting biological insights.