June 1, 2021  |  

Complete telomere-to-telomere de novo assembly of the Plasmodium falciparum genome using long-read sequencing

Sequence-based estimation of genetic diversity of Plasmodium falciparum, the most lethal malarial parasite, has proved challenging due to a lack of a complete genomic assembly. The skewed AT-richness (~80.6% (A+T)) of its genome and the lack of technology to assemble highly polymorphic sub-telomeric regions that contain clonally variant, multigene virulence families (i.e. var and rifin) have confounded attempts using short-read NGS technologies. Using single molecule, real-time (SMRT) sequencing, we successfully compiled all 14 nuclear chromosomes of the P. falciparum genome from telomere-to-telomere in single contigs. Specifically, amplification-free sequencing generated reads of average length 12 kb, with =50% of the reads between 15.5 and 50 kb in length. A hierarchical genome assembly process (HGAP), was used to assemble the P. falciparum genome de novo. This assembly accurately resolved centromeres (~90-99% (A+T)) and sub-telomeric regions, and identified large insertions and duplications in the genome that added extra genes to the var and rifin virulence families, along with smaller structural variants such as homopolymer tract expansions. These regions can be used as markers for genetic diversity during comparative genome analyses. Moreover, identifying the polymorphic and repetitive sub-telomeric sequences of parasite populations from endemic areas might inform the link between structural variation and phenotypes such as virulence, drug resistance and disease transmission.


April 21, 2020  |  

Interspecies conservation of organisation and function between nonhomologous regional centromeres.

Despite the conserved essential function of centromeres, centromeric DNA itself is not conserved. The histone-H3 variant, CENP-A, is the epigenetic mark that specifies centromere identity. Paradoxically, CENP-A normally assembles on particular sequences at specific genomic locations. To gain insight into the specification of complex centromeres, here we take an evolutionary approach, fully assembling genomes and centromeres of related fission yeasts. Centromere domain organization, but not sequence, is conserved between Schizosaccharomyces pombe, S. octosporus and S. cryophilus with a central CENP-ACnp1 domain flanked by heterochromatic outer-repeat regions. Conserved syntenic clusters of tRNA genes and 5S rRNA genes occur across the centromeres of S. octosporus and S. cryophilus, suggesting conserved function. Interestingly, nonhomologous centromere central-core sequences from S. octosporus and S. cryophilus are recognized in S. pombe, resulting in cross-species establishment of CENP-ACnp1 chromatin and functional kinetochores. Therefore, despite the lack of sequence conservation, Schizosaccharomyces centromere DNA possesses intrinsic conserved properties that promote assembly of CENP-A chromatin.


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