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  |  

Detecting pathogenic structural variants with long-read PacBio SMRT Sequencing

Most of the base pairs that differ between two human genomes are in intermediate-sized structural variants (50 bp to 5 kb), which are too small to detect with array comparative genomic hybridization or optical mapping but too large to reliably discover with short-read DNA sequencing. Long-read sequencing with PacBio Single Molecule, Real-Time (SMRT) Sequencing platforms fills this technology gap. PacBio SMRT Sequencing detects tens of thousands of structural variants in a human genome with approximately five times the sensitivity of short-read DNA sequencing. Effective application of PacBio SMRT Sequencing to detect structural variants requires quality bioinformatics tools that account for the characteristics of PacBio reads. To provide such a solution, we developed pbsv, a structural variant caller for PacBio reads that works as a chain of simple stages: 1) map reads to the reference genome, 2) identify reads with signatures of structural variation, 3) cluster nearby reads with similar signatures, 4) summarize each cluster into a consensus variant, and 5) filter for variants with sufficient read support. To evaluate the baseline performance of pbsv, we generated high coverage of a diploid human genome on the PacBio Sequel System, established a target set of structural variants, and then titrated to lower coverage levels. The false discovery rate for pbsv is low at all coverage levels. Sensitivity is high even at modest coverage: above 85% at 10-fold coverage and above 95% at 20-fold coverage. To assess the potential for PacBio SMRT Sequencing to identify pathogenic variants, we evaluated an individual with clinical symptoms suggestive of Carney complex for whom short-read whole genome sequencing was uninformative. The individual was sequenced to 9-fold coverage on the PacBio Sequel System, and structural variants were called with pbsv. Filtering for rare, genic structural variants left six candidates, including a heterozygous 2,184 bp deletion that removes the first coding exon of PRKAR1A. Null mutations in PRKAR1Acause autosomal dominant Carney complex, type 1. The variant was determined to be de novo, and it was classified as likely pathogenic based on ACMG standards and guidelines for variant interpretation. These case studies demonstrate the ability of pbsv to detect structural variants in low-coverage PacBio SMRT Sequencing and suggest the importance of considering structural variants in any study of human genetic variation.


April 21, 2020  |  

LR_Gapcloser: a tiling path-based gap closer that uses long reads to complete genome assembly.

Completing a genome is an important goal of genome assembly. However, many assemblies, including reference assemblies, are unfinished and have a number of gaps. Long reads obtained from third-generation sequencing (TGS) platforms can help close these gaps and improve assembly contiguity. However, current gap-closure approaches using long reads require extensive runtime and high memory usage. Thus, a fast and memory-efficient approach using long reads is needed to obtain complete genomes.We developed LR_Gapcloser to rapidly and efficiently close the gaps in genome assembly. This tool utilizes long reads generated from TGS sequencing platforms. Tested on de novo assembled gaps, repeat-derived gaps, and real gaps, LR_Gapcloser closed a higher number of gaps faster and with a lower error rate and a much lower memory usage than two existing, state-of-the art tools. This tool utilized raw reads to fill more gaps than when using error-corrected reads. It is applicable to gaps in the assemblies by different approaches and from large and complex genomes. After performing gap-closure using this tool, the contig N50 size of the human CHM1 genome was improved from 143 kb to 19 Mb, a 132-fold increase. We also closed the gaps in the Triticum urartu genome, a large genome rich in repeats; the contig N50 size was increased by 40%. Further, we evaluated the contiguity and correctness of six hybrid assembly strategies by combining the optimal TGS-based and next-generation sequencing-based assemblers with LR_Gapcloser. A proposed and optimal hybrid strategy generated a new human CHM1 genome assembly with marked contiguity. The contig N50 value was greater than 28 Mb, which is larger than previous non-reference assemblies of the diploid human genome.LR_Gapcloser is a fast and efficient tool that can be used to close gaps and improve the contiguity of genome assemblies. A proposed hybrid assembly including this tool promises reference-grade assemblies. The software is available at http://www.fishbrowser.org/software/LR_Gapcloser/.


April 21, 2020  |  

Genetic Variation, Comparative Genomics, and the Diagnosis of Disease.

The discovery of mutations associated with human genetic dis- ease is an exercise in comparative genomics (see Glossary). Although there are many different strategies and approaches, the central premise is that affected persons harbor a significant excess of pathogenic DNA variants as com- pared with a group of unaffected persons (controls) that is either clinically defined1 or established by surveying large swaths of the general population.2 The more exclu- sive the variant is to the disease, the greater its penetrance, the larger its effect size, and the more relevant it becomes to both disease diagnosis and future therapeutic investigation. The most popular approach used by researchers in human genetics is the case–control design, but there are others that can be used to track variants and disease in a family context or that consider the probability of different classes of mutations based on evolutionary patterns of divergence or de novo mutational change.3,4 Although the approaches may be straightforward, the discovery of patho- genic variation and its mechanism of action often is less trivial, and decades of research can be required in order to identify the variants underlying both mendelian and complex genetic traits.


April 21, 2020  |  

Long-Read Sequencing Emerging in Medical Genetics

The wide implementation of next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies has revolutionized the field of medical genetics. However, the short read lengths of currently used sequencing approaches pose a limitation for identification of structural variants, sequencing repetitive regions, phasing alleles and distinguishing highly homologous genomic regions. These limitations may significantly contribute to the diagnostic gap in patients with genetic disorders who have undergone standard NGS, like whole exome or even genome sequencing. Now, the emerging long-read sequencing (LRS) technologies may offer improvements in the characterization of genetic variation and regions that are difficult to assess with the currently prevailing NGS approaches. LRS has so far mainly been used to investigate genetic disorders with previously known or strongly suspected disease loci. While these targeted approaches already show the potential of LRS, it remains to be seen whether LRS technologies can soon enable true whole genome sequencing routinely. Ultimately, this could allow the de novo assembly of individual whole genomes used as a generic test for genetic disorders. In this article, we summarize the current LRS-based research on human genetic disorders and discuss the potential of these technologies to facilitate the next major advancements in medical genetics.


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