June 1, 2021  |  

Isoform sequencing: Unveiling the complex landscape of the eukaryotic transcriptome on the PacBio RS II.

Alternative splicing of RNA is an important mechanism that increases protein diversity and is pervasive in the most complex biological functions. While advances in RNA sequencing methods have accelerated our understanding of the transcriptome, isoform discovery remains computationally challenging due to short read lengths. Here, we describe the Isoform Sequencing (Iso-Seq) method using long reads generated by the PacBio RS II. We sequenced rat heart and lung RNA using the Clontech® SMARTer® cDNA preparation kit followed by size selection using agarose gel. Additionally, we tested the BluePippin™ device from Sage Science for efficiently extracting longer transcripts = 3 kb. Post-sequencing, we developed a novel isoform-level clustering algorithm to generate high-quality transcript consensus sequences. We show that our method recovered alternative splice forms as well as alternative stop sites, antisense transcription, and retained introns. To conclude, the Iso-Seq method provides a new opportunity for researchers to study the complex eukaryotic transcriptome even in the absence of reference genomes or annotated transcripts.


June 1, 2021  |  

Isoform sequencing: Unveiling the complex landscape in eukaryotic transcriptome on the PacBio RS II.

Advances in RNA sequencing have accelerated our understanding of the transcriptome, however isoform discovery remains challenging due to short read lengths. The Iso-Seq Application provides a new alternative to sequence full-length cDNA libraries using long reads from the PacBio RS II. Identification of long and often rare isoforms is demonstrated with rat heart and lung RNA prepared using the Clontech® SMARTer® cDNA preparation kit, followed by agarose-gel size selection in fractions of 1-2 kb, 2-3 kb and 3-6 kb. For each tissue, 1.8 and 1.2 million reads were obtained from 32 and 26 SMRT Cells, respectively. Filtering for reads with both adapters and polyA tail signals yielded >50% putative full-length transcripts. To improve consensus accuracy, we developed an isoform-level clustering algorithm ICE (Iterative Clustering for Error Correction), and polished full-length consensus sequences from ICE using Quiver. This method generated full-length transcripts up to 4.5 kb with = 99% post-correction accuracy. Compared with known rat genes, the Iso-Seq method not only recovered the majority of currently annotated isoforms, but also several unannotated novel isoforms with identified homologs in the RefSeq database. Additionally, alternative stop sites, extended UTRs, and retained introns were detected.


June 1, 2021  |  

Complex alternative splicing patterns in hematopoietic cell subpopulations revealed by third-generation long reads.

Background: Alternative splicing expands the repertoire of gene functions and is a signature for different cell populations. Here we characterize the transcriptome of human bone marrow subpopulations including progenitor cells to understand their contribution to homeostasis and pathological conditions such as atherosclerosis and tumor metastasis. To obtain full-length transcript structures, we utilized long reads in addition to RNA-seq for estimating isoform diversity and abundance. Method: Freshly harvested, viable human bone marrow tissues were extracted from discarded harvesting equipment and separated into total bone marrow (total), lineage-negative (lin-) progenitor cells and differentiated cells (lin+) by magnetic bead sorting with antibodies to surface markers of hematopoietic cell lineages. Sequencing was done with SOLiD, Illumina HiSeq (100bp paired-end reads), and PacBio RS II (full-length cDNA library protocol for 1 – 6 kb libraries). Short reads were assembled using both Trinity for de novo assembly and Cufflinks for genome-guided assembly. Full-length transcript consensus sequences were obtained for the PacBio data using the RS_IsoSeq protocol from PacBios SMRTAnalysis software. Quantitation for each sample was done independently for each sequencing platform using Sailfish to obtain the TPM (transcripts per million) using k-mer matching. Results: PacBios long read sequencing technology is capable of sequencing full-length transcripts up to 10 kb and reveals heretofore-unseen isoform diversity and complexity within the hematopoietic cell populations. A comparison of sequencing depth and de novo transcript assembly with short read, second-generation sequencing reveals that, while short reads provide precision in determining portions of isoform structure and supporting larger 5 and 3 UTR regions, it fails in providing a complete structure especially when multiple isoforms are present at the same locus. Increased breadth of isoform complexity is revealed by long reads that permits further elaboration of full isoform diversity and specific isoform abundance within each separate cell population. Sorting the distribution of major and minor isoforms reveals a cell population-specific balance focused on distinct genome loci and shows how tissue specificity and diversity are modulated by alternative splicing.


June 1, 2021  |  

Single Molecule, Real-Time sequencing of full-length cDNA transcripts uncovers novel alternatively spliced isoforms.

In higher eukaryotic organisms, the majority of multi-exon genes are alternatively spliced. Different mRNA isoforms from the same gene can produce proteins that have distinct properties such as structure, function, or subcellular localization. Thus, the importance of understanding the full complement of transcript isoforms with potential phenotypic impact cannot be underscored. While microarrays and other NGS-based methods have become useful for studying transcriptomes, these technologies yield short, fragmented transcripts that remain a challenge for accurate, complete reconstruction of splice variants. The Iso-Seq protocol developed at PacBio offers the only solution for direct sequencing of full-length, single-molecule cDNA sequences to survey transcriptome isoform diversity useful for gene discovery and annotation. Knowledge of the complete isoform repertoire is also key for accurate quantification of isoform abundance. As most transcripts range from 1 – 10 kb, fully intact RNA molecules can be sequenced using SMRT Sequencing (avg. read length: 10-15 kb) without requiring fragmentation or post-sequencing assembly. Our open-source computational pipeline delivers high-quality, non-redundant sequences for unambiguous identification of alternative splicing events, alternative transcriptional start sites, polyA tail, and gene fusion events. The standard Iso-Seq protocol workflow available for all researchers is presented using a deep dataset of full- length cDNA sequences from the MCF-7 cancer cell line, and multiple tissues (brain, heart, and liver). Detected novel transcripts approaching 10 kb and alternative splicing events are highlighted. Even in extensively profiled samples, the method uncovered large numbers of novel alternatively spliced isoforms and previously unannotated genes.


June 1, 2021  |  

Full-length cDNA sequencing of alternatively spliced isoforms provides insight into human diseases.

The majority of human genes are alternatively spliced, making it possible for most genes to generate multiple proteins. The process of alternative splicing is highly regulated in a developmental-stage and tissue-specific manner. Perturbations in the regulation of these events can lead to disease in humans. Alternative splicing has been shown to play a role in human cancer, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s, and many other diseases. Understanding these diseases requires knowing the full complement of mRNA isoforms. Microarrays and high-throughput cDNA sequencing have become highly successful tools for studying transcriptomes, however these technologies only provide small fragments of transcripts and building complete transcript isoforms has been very challenging. We have developed the Iso-Seq technique, which is capable of sequencing full-length, single-molecule cDNA sequences. The method employs SMRT Sequencing to generate individual molecules with average read lengths of more than 10 kb and some as long as 40 kb. As most transcripts are from 1 to 10 kb, we can sequence through entire RNA molecules, requiring no fragmentation or post-sequencing assembly. Jointly with the sequencing method, we developed a computational pipeline that polishes these full-length transcript sequences into high-quality, non-redundant transcript consensus sequences. Iso-Seq sequencing enables unambiguous identification of alternative splicing events, alternative transcriptional start and poly-A sites, and transcripts from gene fusion events. Knowledge of the complete set of isoforms from a sample of interest is key for accurate quantification of isoform abundance when using any technology for transcriptome studies. Here we characterize the full-length transcriptome of normal human tissues, paired tumor/normal samples from breast cancer, and a brain sample from a patient with Alzheimer’s using deep Iso-Seq sequencing. We highlight numerous discoveries of novel alternatively spliced isoforms, gene-fusions events, and previously unannotated genes that will improve our understanding of human diseases.


June 1, 2021  |  

Full-length cDNA sequencing of alternatively spliced isoforms provides insight into human cancer

The majority of human genes are alternatively spliced, making it possible for most genes to generate multiple proteins. The process of alternative splicing is highly regulated in a developmental-stage and tissue-specific manner. Perturbations in the regulation of these events can lead to disease in humans (1). Alternative splicing has been shown to play a role in human cancer, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s, and many other diseases. Understanding these diseases requires knowing the full complement of mRNA isoforms. Microarrays and high-throughput cDNA sequencing have become highly successful tools for studying transcriptomes, however these technologies only provide small fragments of transcripts and building complete transcript isoforms has been very challenging (2). We have developed a technique, called Iso-Seq sequencing, that is capable of sequencing full-length, single-molecule cDNA sequences. The method employs SMRT Sequencing from PacBio, which can sequence individual molecules with read lengths that average more than 10 kb and can reach as long as 40 kb. As most transcripts are from 1 – 10 kb, we can sequence through entire RNA molecules, requiring no fragmentation or post-sequencing assembly. Jointly with the sequencing method, we developed a computational pipeline that polishes these full-length transcript sequences into high-quality, non-redundant transcript consensus sequences. Iso-Seq sequencing enables unambiguous identification of alternative splicing events, alternative transcriptional start and polyA sites, and transcripts from gene fusion events. Knowledge of the complete set of isoforms from a sample of interest is key for accurate quantification of isoform abundance when using any technology for transcriptome studies (3). Here we characterize the full-length transcriptome of paired tumor/normal samples from breast cancer using deep Iso-Seq sequencing. We highlight numerous discoveries of novel alternatively spliced isoforms, gene-fusion events, and previously unannotated genes that will improve our understanding of human cancer. (1) Faustino NA and Cooper TA. Genes and Development. 2003. 17: 419-437(2) Steijger T, et al. Nat Methods. 2013 Dec;10(12):1177-84.(3) Au KF, et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Dec 10;110(50):E4821-30.


June 1, 2021  |  

Cogent: Reconstructing the coding genome from full-length transcriptome sequences

For highly complex and large genomes, a well-annotated genome may be computationally challenging and costly, yet the study of alternative splicing events and gene annotations usually rely on the existence of a genome. Long-read sequencing technology provides new opportunities to sequence full-length cDNAs, avoiding computational challenges that short read transcript assembly brings. The use of single molecule, real-time sequencing from Pacific Biosciences to sequence transcriptomes (the Iso-SeqTM method), which produces de novo, high-quality, full-length transcripts, has revealed an astonishing amount of alternative splicing in eukaryotic species. With the Iso-Seq method, it is now possible to reconstruct the transcribed regions of the genome using just the transcripts themselves. We present Cogent, a tool for finding gene families and reconstructing the coding genome in the absence of a reference genome. Cogent uses k-mer similarities to first partition the transcripts into different gene families. Then, for each gene family, the transcripts are used to build a splice graph. Cogent identifies bubbles resulting from sequencing errors, minor variants, and exon skipping events, and attempts to resolve each splice graph down to the minimal set of reconstructed contigs. We apply Cogent to a Cuttlefish Iso-Seq dataset, for which there is a highly fragmented, Illumina-based draft genome assembly and little annotation. We show that Cogent successfully discovers gene families and can reconstruct the coding region of gene loci. The reconstructed contigs can then be used to visualize alternative splicing events, identify minor variants, and even be used to improve genome assemblies.


June 1, 2021  |  

Full-length cDNA sequencing for genome annotation and analysis of alternative splicing

In higher eukaryotic organisms, the majority of multi-exon genes are alternatively spliced. Different mRNA isoforms from the same gene can produce proteins that have distinct properties and functions. Thus, the importance of understanding the full complement of transcript isoforms with potential phenotypic impact cannot be understated. While microarrays and other NGS-based methods have become useful for studying transcriptomes, these technologies yield short, fragmented transcripts that remain a challenge for accurate, complete reconstruction of splice variants. The Iso-Seq protocol developed at PacBio offers the only solution for direct sequencing of full-length, single-molecule cDNA sequences to survey transcriptome isoform diversity useful for gene discovery and annotation. Knowledge of the complete isoform repertoire is also key for accurate quantification of isoform abundance. As most transcripts range from 1 – 10 kb, fully intact RNA molecules can be sequenced using SMRT Sequencing without requiring fragmentation or post-sequencing assembly. Our open-source computational pipeline delivers high-quality, non-redundant sequences for unambiguous identification of alternative splicing events, alternative transcriptional start sites, polyA tail, and gene fusion events. We applied the Iso-Seq method to the maize (Zea mays) inbred line B73. Full-length cDNAs from six diverse tissues were barcoded and sequenced across multiple size-fractionated SMRTbell libraries. A total of 111,151 unique transcripts were identified. More than half of these transcripts (57%) represented novel, sometimes tissue-specific, isoforms of known genes. In addition to the 2250 novel coding genes and 860 lncRNAs discovered, the Iso-Seq dataset corrected errors in existing gene models, highlighting the value of full-length transcripts for whole gene annotations.


June 1, 2021  |  

Reconstruction of the spinach coding genome using full-length transcriptome without a reference genome

For highly complex and large genomes, a well-annotated genome may be computationally challenging and costly, yet the study of alternative splicing events and gene annotations usually rely on the existence of a genome. Long-read sequencing technology provides new opportunities to sequence full-length cDNAs, avoiding computational challenges that short read transcript assembly brings. The use of single molecule, real-time sequencing from PacBio to sequence transcriptomes (the Iso-Seq method), which produces de novo, high-quality, full-length transcripts, has revealed an astonishing amount of alternative splicing in eukaryotic species. With the Iso-Seq method, it is now possible to reconstruct the transcribed regions of the genome using just the transcripts themselves. We present Cogent, a tool for finding gene families and reconstructing the coding genome in the absence of a high-quality reference genome. Cogent uses k-mer similarities to first partition the transcripts into different gene families. Then, for each gene family, the transcripts are used to build a splice graph. Cogent identifies bubbles resulting from sequencing errors, minor variants, and exon skipping events, and attempts to resolve each splice graph down to the minimal set of reconstructed contigs. We apply Cogent to the Iso-Seq data for spinach, Spinacia oleracea, for which there is also a PacBio-based draft genome to validate the reconstruction. The Iso-Seq dataset consists of 68,263 fulllength, Quiver-polished transcript sequences ranging from 528 bp to 6 kbp long (mean: 2.1 kbp). Using the genome mapping as ground truth, we found that 95% (8045/8446) of the Cogent gene families found corresponded to a single genomic loci. For families that contained multiple loci, they were often homologous genes that would be categorized as belonging to the same gene family. Coding genome reconstruction was then performed individually for each gene family. A total of 86% (7283/8446) of the gene families were resolved to a single contig by Cogent, and was validated to be also a single contig in the genome. In 59 cases, Cogent reconstructed a single contig, however the contig corresponded to 2 or more loci in the genome, suggesting possible scaffolding opportunities. In 24 cases, the transcripts had no hits to the genome, though Pfam and BLAST searches of the transcripts show that they were indeed coding, suggesting that the genome is missing certain coding portions. Given the high quality of the spinach genome, we were not surprised to find that Cogent only minorly improved the genome space. However the ability of Cogent to accurately identify gene families and reconstruct the coding genome in a de novo fashion shows that it will be extremely powerful when applied to datasets for which there is no or low-quality reference genome.


June 1, 2021  |  

Alternative splicing in FMR1 premutations carriers

Over 40% of males and ~16% of female carriers of a FMR1 premutation allele (55-200 CGG repeats) are at risk for developing Fragile X-associated Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome (FXTAS), an adult onset neurodegenerative disorder while, about 20% of female carriers will develop Fragile X-associated Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (FXPOI), in addition to a number of adult-onset clinical problems (FMR1 associated disorders). Marked elevation in FMR1 mRNA levels have been observed with premutation alleles and the resulting RNA toxicity is believed to be the leading molecular mechanism proposed for these disorders. The FMR1 gene, as many housekeeping genes, undergoes alternative splicing. Using long-read isoform sequencing (SMRT) and qRT-PCR we have recently reported that, although the relative abundance of all FMR1 mRNA isoforms is significantly increased in the premutation group compared to controls, there is a disproportionate increase, relative to the overall increase in mRNA, in the abundance of isoforms spliced at both exons 12 and 14. In total, we confirmed the existence of 16 out of 24 predicted isoforms in our samples. However, it is unknown, which isoforms, when overexpressed, may contribute to the premutation pathology. To address this question we have further defined the transcriptional FMR1 isoforms distribution pattern in different tissues, including heart, muscle, brain and testis derived from FXTAS premutation carriers and age-matched controls. Preliminary data indicates the presence of a transcriptional signature of the FMR1 gene, which clusters more by individual than by tissue type. We identified additional isoforms than the 16 reported in our previous study, including a group with particular splice patterns that were observed only in premutations but not in controls. Our findings suggest that the characterization of expression levels of the different FMR1 isoforms is fundamental for understanding the regulation of the FMR1 gene as well as for elucidating the mechanism(s) by which “toxic gain of function” of the FMR1 mRNA may play a role in FXTAS and/or in the other FMR1-associated conditions. In addition to the elevated levels of FMR1 isoforms, the altered abundance/ratio of the corresponding FMRP isomers may affect the overall function of FMRP in premutations.


June 1, 2021  |  

Using the PacBio IsoSeq method to search for novel colorectal cancer biomarkers

Early detection of colorectal cancer (CRC) and its precursor lesions (adenomas) is crucial to reduce mortality rates. The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is a non-invasive CRC screening test that detects the blood-derived protein hemoglobin. However, FIT sensitivity is suboptimal especially in detection of CRC precursor lesions. As adenoma-to-carcinoma progression is accompanied by alternative splicing, tumor-specific proteins derived from alternatively spliced RNA transcripts might serve as candidate biomarkers for CRC detection.


June 1, 2021  |  

Simplified sequencing of full-length isoforms in cancer on the PacBio Sequel platform

Tremendous flexibility is maintained in the human proteome via alternative splicing, and cancer genomes often subvert this flexibility to promote survival. Identification and annotation of cancer-specific mRNA isoforms is critical to understanding how mutations in the genome affect the biology of cancer cells. While microarrays and other NGS-based methods have become useful for studying transcriptomes, these technologies yield short, fragmented transcripts that remain a challenge for accurate, complete reconstruction of splice variants. In cancer proteomics studies, the identification of biomarkers from mass spectroscopy data is often limited by incomplete gene isoform expression information to support protein to transcript mapping. The Iso-Seq protocol developed at PacBio offers the only solution for direct sequencing of full-length, single-molecule cDNA sequences needed to discover biomarkers for early detection and cancer stratification, to fully characterize gene fusion events, and to elucidate drug resistance mechanisms. Knowledge of the complete isoform repertoire is also key for accurate quantification of isoform abundance. As most transcripts range from 1 – 10 kb, fully intact RNA molecules can be sequenced using SMRT® Sequencing without requiring fragmentation or post-sequencing assembly. However, some cancer research applications have presented a challenge for the Iso-Seq protocol, due to the combination of limited sample input and the need to deeply sequence heterogenous samples. Here we report the optimization of the Iso-Seq library preparation protocol for the PacBio Sequel platform and its application to cancer cell lines and tumor samples. We demonstrate how loading enhancements on the higher-throughput Sequel instrument have decreased the need for size fractionation steps, reducing sample input requirements while simultaneously simplifying the sample preparation workflow and increasing the number of full-length transcripts per SMRT Cell.


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