August 19, 2021  |  

Whitepaper: Structural variation in the human genome

Structural variation accounts for much of the variation among human genomes. Structural variants of all types are known to cause Mendelian disease and contribute to complex disease. Learn how long-read sequencing is enabling detection of the full spectrum of structural variants to advance the study of human disease, evolution and genetic diversity.


June 1, 2021  |  

Characterizing haplotype diversity at the immunoglobulin heavy chain locus across human populations using novel long-read sequencing and assembly approaches

The human immunoglobulin heavy chain locus (IGH) remains among the most understudied regions of the human genome. Recent efforts have shown that haplotype diversity within IGH is elevated and exhibits population specific patterns; for example, our re-sequencing of the locus from only a single chromosome uncovered >100 Kb of novel sequence, including descriptions of six novel alleles, and four previously unmapped genes. Historically, this complex locus architecture has hindered the characterization of IGH germline single nucleotide, copy number, and structural variants (SNVs; CNVs; SVs), and as a result, there remains little known about the role of IGH polymorphisms in inter-individual antibody repertoire variability and disease. To remedy this, we are taking a multi-faceted approach to improving existing genomic resources in the human IGH region. First, from whole-genome and fosmid-based datasets, we are building the largest and most ethnically diverse set of IGH reference assemblies to date, by employing PacBio long-read sequencing combined with novel algorithms for phased haplotype assembly. In total, our effort will result in the characterization of >15 phased haplotypes from individuals of Asian, African, and European descent, to be used as a representative reference set by the genomics and immunogenetics community. Second, we are utilizing this more comprehensive sequence catalogue to inform the design and analysis of novel targeted IGH genotyping assays. Standard targeted DNA enrichment methods (e.g., exome capture) are currently optimized for the capture of only very short (100’s of bp) DNA segments. Our platform uses a modified bench protocol to pair existing capture-array technologies with the enrichment of longer fragments of DNA, enabling the use of PacBio sequencing of DNA segments up to 7 Kb. This substantial increase in contiguity disambiguates many of the complex repeated structures inherent to the locus, while yielding the base pair fidelity required to call SNVs. Together these resources will establish a stronger framework for further characterizing IGH genetic diversity and facilitate IGH genomic profiling in the clinical and research settings, which will be key to fully understanding the role of IGH germline variation in antibody repertoire development and disease.


June 1, 2021  |  

Structural variant combining Illumina and low-coverage PacBio

Structural variant calling combining Illumina and low-coverage Pacbio Detection of large genomic variation (structural variants) has proven challenging using short-read methods. Long-read approaches which can span these large events have promise to dramatically expand the ability to accurately call structural variants. Although sequencing with Pacific Biosciences (Pacbio) long-read technology has become increasingly high throughput, generating high coverage with the technology can still be limiting and investigators often would like to know what pacbio coverages are adequate to call structural variants. Here, we present a method to identify a substantially higher fraction of structural variants in the human genome using low-coverage pacbio data by multiple strategies for ensembling data types and algorithms. Algorithmically, we combine three structural variant callers: PBHoney by Adam English, Sniffles by Fritz Sedlazeck, and Parliament by Adam English (which we have modified to improve for speed). Parliament itself uses a combination of Pacbio and Illumina data with a number of short-read callers (Breakdancer, Pindel, Crest, CNVnator, Delly, and Lumpy). We show that the outputs of these three programs are largely complementary to each other, with each able to uniquely access different sets of structural variants at different coverages. Combining them together can more than double the recall of true structural variants from a truth set relative to sequencing with Illumina alone, with substantial improvements even at low pacbio coverages (3x – 7x). This allows us to present for the first time cost-benefit tradeoffs to investigators about how much pacbio sequencing will yield what improvements in SV-calling. This work also builds upon the foundational work of Genome in a Bottle led by Justin Zook in establishing a truth set for structural variants in the Ashkenazim-Jewish trio data recently released. This work demonstrates the power of this benchmark set – one of the first of its kind for structural variation data – to help understand and refine the accuracies of calling structural variants with a number of approaches.


June 1, 2021  |  

Effect of coverage depth and haplotype phasing on structural variant detection with PacBio long reads

Each human genome has thousands of structural variants compared to the reference assembly, up to 85% of which are difficult or impossible to detect with Illumina short reads and are only visible with long, multi-kilobase reads. The PacBio RS II and Sequel single molecule, real-time (SMRT) sequencing platforms have made it practical to generate long reads at high throughput. These platforms enable the discovery of structural variants just as short-read platforms did for single nucleotide variants. Numerous software algorithms call structural variants effectively from PacBio long reads, but algorithm sensitivity is lower for insertion variants and all heterozygous variants. Furthermore, the impact of coverage depth and read lengths on sensitivity is not fully characterized. To quantify how zygosity, coverage depth, and read lengths impact the sensitivity of structural variant detection, we obtained high coverage PacBio sequences for three human samples: haploid CHM1, diploid NA12878, and diploid SK-BR-3. For each dataset, reads were randomly subsampled to titrate coverage from 0.5- to 50-fold. The structural variants detected at each coverage were compared to the set at “full” 50-fold coverage. For the diploid samples, additional titrations were performed with reads first partitioned by phase using single nucleotide variants for essentially haploid structural variant discovery. Even at low coverages (1- to 5-fold), PacBio long reads reveal hundreds of structural variants that are not seen in deep 50-fold Illumina whole genome sequences. At moderate 10-fold PacBio coverage, a majority of structural variants are detected. Sensitivity begins to level off at around 40-fold coverage, though it does not fully saturate before 50-fold. Phasing improves sensitivity for all variant types, especially at moderate 10- to 20-fold coverage. Long reads are an effective tool to identify and phase structural variants in the human genome. The majority of variants are detected at moderate 10-fold coverage, and even extremely low long-read coverage (1- to 5-fold) reveals variants that are invisible to short-read sequencing. Performance will continue to improve with better software and longer reads, which will empower studies to connect structural variants to healthy and disease traits in the human population.


June 1, 2021  |  

The MHC Diversity in Africa Project (MDAP) pilot – 125 African high resolution HLA types from 5 populations

The major histocompatibility complex (MHC), or human leukocyte antigen (HLA) in humans, is a highly diverse gene family with a key role in immune response to disease; and has been implicated in auto-immune disease, cancer, infectious disease susceptibility, and vaccine response. It has clinical importance in the field of solid organ and bone marrow transplantation, where donors and recipient matching of HLA types is key to transplanted organ outcomes. The Sanger based typing (SBT) methods currently used in clinical practice do not capture the full diversity across this region, and require specific reference sequences to deconvolute ambiguity in HLA types. However, reference databases are based largely on European populations, and the full extent of diversity in Africa remains poorly understood. Here, we present the first systematic characterisation of HLA diversity within Africa in the pilot phase of the MHC Diversity in Africa Project, together with an evaluation of methods to carry out scalable cost-effective, as well as reliable, typing of this region in African populations.To sample a geographically representative panel of African populations we obtained 125 samples, 25 each from the Zulu (South Africa), Igbo (Nigeria), Kalenjin (Kenya), Moroccan and Ashanti (Ghana) groups. For methods validation we included two controls from the International Histocompatibility Working Group (IHWG) collection with known typing information. Sanger typing and Illumina HiSeq X sequencing of these samples indicated potentially novel Class I and Class II alleles; however, we found poor correlation between HiSeq X sequencing and SBT for both classes. Long Range PCR and high resolution PacBio RS-II typing of 4 of these samples identified 7 novel Class II alleles, highlighting the high levels of diversity in these populations, and the need for long read sequencing approaches to characterise this comprehensively. We have now expanded this approach to the entire pilot set of 125 samples. We present these confirmed types and discuss a workflow for scaling this to 5000 individuals across Africa.The large number of new alleles identified in our pilot suggests the high level of African HLA diversity and the utility of high resolution methods. The MDAP project will provide a framework for accurate HLA typing, in addition to providing an invaluable resource for imputation in GWAS, boosting power to identify and resolve HLA disease associations.


June 1, 2021  |  

Structural variant detection with low-coverage Pacbio sequencing

Despite amazing progress over the past quarter century in the technology to detect genetic variants, intermediate-sized structural variants (50 bp to 50 kb) have remained difficult to identify. Such variants are too small to detect with array comparative genomic hybridization, but too large to reliably discover with short-read DNA sequencing. Recent de novo assemblies of human genomes have demonstrated the power of PacBio Single Molecule, Real-Time (SMRT) Sequencing to fill this technology gap and sensitively identify structural variants in the human genome. While de novo assembly is the ideal method to identify variants in a genome, it requires high depth of coverage. A structural variant discovery approach that utilizes lower coverage would facilitate evaluation of large patient and population cohorts. Here we introduce such an approach and apply it to 10-fold coverage of several human genomes generated on the PacBio Sequel System. To identify structural variants in low-fold coverage whole genome sequencing data, we apply a reference-based, re-sequencing workflow. First, reads are mapped to the human reference genome with a local aligner. The local alignments often end at structural variant loci. To connect co-linear local alignments across structural variants, we apply a novel algorithm that merges alignments into “chains” and refines the alignment edges. Then, the chained alignments are scanned for windows with an excess of insertions or deletions to identify candidate structural variant loci. Finally, the read support at each putative variant locus is evaluated to produce a variant call. Single nucleotide information is incorporated to phase and evaluate the zygosity of each structural variant. In 10-fold coverage human genome sequence, we identify the vast majority of the structural variants found by de novo assembly, thus demonstrating the power of low-fold coverage SMRT Sequencing to affordably and effectively detect structural variants.


June 1, 2021  |  

Detecting pathogenic structural variants with low-coverage PacBio sequencing.

Though a role for structural variants in human disease has long been recognized, it has remained difficult to identify intermediate-sized variants (50 bp to 5 kb), which are too small to detect with array comparative genomic hybridization, but too large to reliably discover with short-read DNA sequencing. Recent studies have demonstrated that PacBio Single Molecule, Real-Time (SMRT) sequencing fills this technology gap. SMRT sequencing detects tens of thousands of structural variants in the human genome, approximately five times the sensitivity of short-read DNA sequencing.


June 1, 2021  |  

Joint calling and PacBio SMRT Sequencing for indel and structural variant detection in populations

Fast and effective variant calling algorithms have been crucial to the successful application of DNA sequencing in human genetics. In particular, joint calling – in which reads from multiple individuals are pooled to increase power for shared variants – is an important tool for population surveys of variation. Joint calling was applied by the 1000 Genomes Project to identify variants across many individuals each sequenced to low coverage (about 5-fold). This approach successfully found common small variants, but broadly missed structural variants and large indels for which short-read sequencing has limited sensitivity. To support use of large variants in rare disease and common trait association studies, it is necessary to perform population-scale surveys with a technology effective at detecting indels and structural variants, such as PacBio SMRT Sequencing. For these studies, it is important to have a joint calling workflow that works with PacBio reads. We have developed pbsv, an indel and structural variant caller for PacBio reads, that provides a two-step joint calling workflow similar to that used to build the ExAC database. The first stage, discovery, is performed separately for each sample and consolidates whole genome alignments into a sparse representation of potentially variant loci. The second stage, calling, is performed on all samples together and considers only the signatures identified in the discovery stage. We applied the pbsv joint calling workflow to PacBio reads from twenty human genomes, with coverage ranging from 5-fold to 80-fold per sample for a total of 460-fold. The analysis required only 102 CPU hours, and identified over 800,000 indels and structural variants, including hundreds of inversions and translocations, many times more than discovered with short-read sequencing. The workflow is scalable to thousands of samples. The ongoing application of this workflow to thousands of samples will provide insight into the evolution and functional importance of large variants in human evolution and disease.


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