June 1, 2021  |  

Old school/new school genome sequencing: One step backward — a quantum leap forward.

As the costs for genome sequencing have decreased the number of “genome” sequences have increased at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, the quality and completeness of these so–called “genome” sequences have suffered enormously. We prefer to call such genome assemblies as “gene assembly space” (GAS). We believe it is important to distinguish GAS assemblies from reference genome assemblies (RGAs) as all subsequent research that depends on accurate genome assemblies can be highly compromised if the only assembly available is a GAS assembly.


June 1, 2021  |  

HLA variant identification techniques

The Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) genes located on chromosome 6 are responsible for regulating immune function via antigen presentation and are one of the determining factors for stem cell and organ transplantation compatibility. Additionally various alleles within this region have been implicated in autoimmune disorders, cancer, vaccine response and both non-infectious and infectious disease risk. The HLA region is highly variable; containing repetitive regions; and co-dominantly expressed genes. This complicates short read mapping and means that assessing the effect of variation within a gene requires full phase information to resolve haplotypes.One solution to the problem of HLA identification is the use of statistical inference to suggest the most likely diploid alleles given the genotypes observed. The assumption of this approach is the availability of an extensive reference panel. Whilst there exists good population genetics data for imputing European populations, there remains a paucity of information about variation in African populations. Filling this gap is one of the aims of the Genome Diversity in Africa Project and as a first step we are performing a pilot study to identify the optimal method for determining HLA type information for large numbers of samples from African populations.To that end we have obtained samples from 125 consented African participants selected from 5 populations across Africa (Morrocan, Ashanti, Igbo, Kalenjin, and Zulu). The methods included in our pilot study are Sanger sequencing (ABI), NGS on HiSeqX Ten platform (Illumina); long-range PCR combined with single molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing (PacBio); and for a subset of samples library preparation on GemCode Platform (10x Genomics), which delivers valuable long range contextual information, combined with Illumina NGS sequencing.Results from capillary sequencing suggests the presence of a minimum of two novel alleles. Long Range PCR have been performed initially on a subset of samples using both primers sourced from GenDX and designed as described in Shiina et al (2012). Initial results from both primer sets were promising on Promega DNA test samples but only the GenDX primers proved effective on the African samples, producing consistently PCR products of the expected size in the Igbo, Ashanti, Morrocan and Zulu samples. We will present early results from our evaluation of the different sequencing technologies


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  |  

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  |  

Improving the reference with a diversity panel of sequence-resolved structural variation

Although the accuracy of the human reference genome is critical for basic and clinical research, structural variants (SVs) have been difficult to assess because data capable of resolving them have been limited. To address potential bias, we sequenced a diversity panel of nine human genomes to high depth using long-read, single-molecule, real-time sequencing data. Systematically identifying and merging SVs =50 bp in length for these nine and one public genome yielded 83,909 sequence-resolved insertions, deletions, and inversions. Among these, 2,839 (2.0 Mbp) are shared among all discovery genomes with an additional 13,349 (6.9 Mbp) present in the majority of humans, indicating minor alleles or errors in the reference, which is partially explained by an enrichment for GC-content and repetitive DNA. Genotyping 83% of these in 290 additional genomes confirms that at least one allele of the most common SVs in unique euchromatin are now sequence-resolved. We observe a 9-fold increase within 5 Mbp of chromosome telomeric ends and correlation with de novo single-nucleotide variant mutations showing that such variation is nonrandomly distributed defining potential hotspots of mutation. We identify SVs affecting coding and noncoding regulatory loci improving annotation and interpretation of functional variation. To illustrate the utility of sequence-resolved SVs in resequencing experiments, we mapped 30 diverse high-coverage Illumina-sequenced samples to GRCh38 with and without contigs containing SV insertions as alternate sequences, and we found these additional sequences recover 6.4% of unmapped reads. For reads mapped within the SV insertion, 25.7% have a better mapping quality, and 18.7% improved by 1,000-fold or more. We reveal 72,964 occurrences of 15,814 unique variants that were not discoverable with the reference sequence alone, and we note that 7% of the insertions contain an SV in at least one sample indicating that there are additional alleles in the population that remain to be discovered. These data provide the framework to construct a canonical human reference and a resource for developing advanced representations capable of capturing allelic diversity. We present a summary of our findings and discuss ideas for revealing variation that was once difficult to ascertain.


April 21, 2020  |  

Transcriptional initiation of a small RNA, not R-loop stability, dictates the frequency of pilin antigenic variation in Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the sole causative agent of gonorrhea, constitutively undergoes diversification of the Type IV pilus. Gene conversion occurs between one of the several donor silent copies located in distinct loci and the recipient pilE gene, encoding the major pilin subunit of the pilus. A guanine quadruplex (G4) DNA structure and a cis-acting sRNA (G4-sRNA) are located upstream of the pilE gene and both are required for pilin antigenic variation (Av). We show that the reduced sRNA transcription lowers pilin Av frequencies. Extended transcriptional elongation is not required for Av, since limiting the transcript to 32 nt allows for normal Av frequencies. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays, we show that cellular G4s are less abundant when sRNA transcription is lower. In addition, using ChIP, we demonstrate that the G4-sRNA forms a stable RNA:DNA hybrid (R-loop) with its template strand. However, modulating R-loop levels by controlling RNase HI expression does not alter G4 abundance quantified through ChIP. Since pilin Av frequencies were not altered when modulating R-loop levels by controlling RNase HI expression, we conclude that transcription of the sRNA is necessary, but stable R-loops are not required to promote pilin Av. © 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


April 21, 2020  |  

Insect genomes: progress and challenges.

In the wake of constant improvements in sequencing technologies, numerous insect genomes have been sequenced. Currently, 1219 insect genome-sequencing projects have been registered with the National Center for Biotechnology Information, including 401 that have genome assemblies and 155 with an official gene set of annotated protein-coding genes. Comparative genomics analysis showed that the expansion or contraction of gene families was associated with well-studied physiological traits such as immune system, metabolic detoxification, parasitism and polyphagy in insects. Here, we summarize the progress of insect genome sequencing, with an emphasis on how this impacts research on pest control. We begin with a brief introduction to the basic concepts of genome assembly, annotation and metrics for evaluating the quality of draft assemblies. We then provide an overview of genome information for numerous insect species, highlighting examples from prominent model organisms, agricultural pests and disease vectors. We also introduce the major insect genome databases. The increasing availability of insect genomic resources is beneficial for developing alternative pest control methods. However, many opportunities remain for developing data-mining tools that make maximal use of the available insect genome resources. Although rapid progress has been achieved, many challenges remain in the field of insect genomics. © 2019 The Royal Entomological Society.


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