June 1, 2021  |  

Immune regions are no longer incomprehensible with SMRT Sequencing

The complex immune regions of the genome, including MHC and KIR, contain large copy number variants (CNVs), a high density of genes, hyper-polymorphic gene alleles, and conserved extended haplotypes (CEH) with enormous linkage disequilibrium (LDs). This level of complexity and inherent biases of short-read sequencing make it challenging for extracting immune region haplotype information from reference-reliant, shotgun sequencing and GWAS methods. As NGS based genome and exome sequencing and SNP arrays have become a routine for population studies, numerous efforts are being made for developing software to extract and or impute the immune gene information from these datasets. Despite these efforts, the fine mapping of causal variants of immune genes for their well-documented association with cancer, drug-induced hypersensitivity and immune-related diseases, has been slower than expected. This has in many ways limited our understanding of the mechanisms leading to immune disease. In the present work, we demonstrate the advantages of long reads delivered by SMRT Sequencing for assembling complete haplotypes of MHC and KIR gene clusters, as well as calling correct genotypes of genes comprised within them. All the genotype information is detected at allele- level with full phasing information across SNP-poor regions. Genotypes were called correctly from targeted gene amplicons, haplotypes, as well as from a completely assembled 5 Mb contig of the MHC region from a de novo assembly of whole genome shotgun data. De novo analysis pipeline used in all these approaches allowed for reference-free analysis without imputation, a key for interrogation without prior knowledge about ethnic backgrounds. These methods are thus easily adoptable for previously uncharacterized human or non-human species.


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.


February 5, 2021  |  

PAG Conference: Dawn of the crop pangenome era

To make improvements to crops like corn, soybeans, and canola, scientists at Corteva are building a compendium of crop genomics resources to provide actionable sequence info for genetic discovery, gene-editing,…


April 21, 2020  |  

Genome-Wide Association Study of Growth and Body-Shape-Related Traits in Large Yellow Croaker (Larimichthys crocea) Using ddRAD Sequencing.

Large yellow croaker (Larimichthys crocea) is an economically important marine fish species of China. Due to overfishing and marine pollution, the wild stocks of this croaker have collapsed in the past decades. Meanwhile, the cultured croaker is facing the difficulties of reduced genetic diversity and low growth rate. To explore the molecular markers related to the growth traits of croaker and providing the related SNPs for the marker-assisted selection, we used double-digest restriction-site associated DNA (ddRAD) sequencing to dissect the genetic bases of growth traits in a cultured population and identify the SNPs that associated with important growth traits by GWAS. A total of 220 individuals were genotyped by ddRAD sequencing. After quality control, 27,227 SNPs were identified in 220 samples and used for GWAS analysis. We identified 13 genome-wide significant associated SNPs of growth traits on 8 chromosomes, and the beta P of these SNPs ranged from 0.01 to 0.86. Through the definition of candidate regions and gene annotation, candidate genes related to growth were identified, including important regulators such as fgf18, fgf1, nr3c1, cyp8b1, fabp2, cyp2r1, ppara, and ccm2l. We also identified SNPs and candidate genes that significantly associated with body shape, including bmp7, col1a1, col11a2, and col18a1, which are also economically important traits for large yellow croaker aquaculture. The results provided insights into the genetic basis of growth and body shape in large yellow croaker population and would provide reliable genetic markers for molecular marker-assisted selection in the future. Meanwhile, the result established a basis for our subsequent fine mapping and related gene study.


April 21, 2020  |  

The Chinese chestnut genome: a reference for species restoration

Forest tree species are increasingly subject to severe mortalities from exotic pests, diseases, and invasive organisms, accelerated by climate change. Forest health issues are threatening multiple species and ecosystem sustainability globally. While sources of resistance may be available in related species, or among surviving trees, introgression of resistance genes into threatened tree species in reasonable time frames requires genome-wide breeding tools. Asian species of chestnut (Castanea spp.) are being employed as donors of disease resistance genes to restore native chestnut species in North America and Europe. To aid in the restoration of threatened chestnut species, we present the assembly of a reference genome with chromosome-scale sequences for Chinese chestnut (C. mollissima), the disease-resistance donor for American chestnut restoration. We also demonstrate the value of the genome as a platform for research and species restoration, including new insights into the evolution of blight resistance in Asian chestnut species, the locations in the genome of ecologically important signatures of selection differentiating American chestnut from Chinese chestnut, the identification of candidate genes for disease resistance, and preliminary comparisons of genome organization with related species.


April 21, 2020  |  

Single-Molecule Sequencing: Towards Clinical Applications.

In the past several years, single-molecule sequencing platforms, such as those by Pacific Biosciences and Oxford Nanopore Technologies, have become available to researchers and are currently being tested for clinical applications. They offer exceptionally long reads that permit direct sequencing through regions of the genome inaccessible or difficult to analyze by short-read platforms. This includes disease-causing long repetitive elements, extreme GC content regions, and complex gene loci. Similarly, these platforms enable structural variation characterization at previously unparalleled resolution and direct detection of epigenetic marks in native DNA. Here, we review how these technologies are opening up new clinical avenues that are being applied to pathogenic microorganisms and viruses, constitutional disorders, pharmacogenomics, cancer, and more.Copyright © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


April 21, 2020  |  

Genomic sequence and copy number evolution during hybrid crop development in sunflowers.

Hybrid crops, an important part of modern agriculture, rely on the development of male and female heterotic gene pools. In sunflowers, heterotic gene pools were developed through the use of crop-wild relatives to produce cytoplasmic male sterile female and branching, fertility restoring male lines. Here, we use genomic data from a diversity panel of male, female, and open-pollinated lines to explore the genetic changes brought during modern improvement. We find the male lines have diverged most from their open-pollinated progenitors and that genetic differentiation is concentrated in chromosomes, 8, 10 and 13, due to introgressions from wild relatives. Ancestral variation from open-pollinated varieties almost universally evolved in parallel for both male and female lines suggesting little or no selection for heterotic overdominance. Furthermore, we show that gene content differs between the male and female lines and that differentiation in gene content is concentrated in high FST regions. This means that the introgressions that brought branching and fertility restoration to the male lines, brought with them different gene content from the ancestral haplotypes, including the removal of some genes. Although we find no evidence that gene complementation genomewide is responsible for heterosis between male and female lines, several of the genes that are largely absent in either the male or female lines are associated with pathogen defense, suggesting complementation may be functionally relevant for crop breeders.


April 21, 2020  |  

Reference genome sequences of two cultivated allotetraploid cottons, Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium barbadense.

Allotetraploid cotton species (Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium barbadense) have long been cultivated worldwide for natural renewable textile fibers. The draft genome sequences of both species are available but they are highly fragmented and incomplete1-4. Here we report reference-grade genome assemblies and annotations for G. hirsutum accession Texas Marker-1 (TM-1) and G. barbadense accession 3-79 by integrating single-molecule real-time sequencing, BioNano optical mapping and high-throughput chromosome conformation capture techniques. Compared with previous assembled draft genomes1,3, these genome sequences show considerable improvements in contiguity and completeness for regions with high content of repeats such as centromeres. Comparative genomics analyses identify extensive structural variations that probably occurred after polyploidization, highlighted by large paracentric/pericentric inversions in 14 chromosomes. We constructed an introgression line population to introduce favorable chromosome segments from G. barbadense to G. hirsutum, allowing us to identify 13 quantitative trait loci associated with superior fiber quality. These resources will accelerate evolutionary and functional genomic studies in cotton and inform future breeding programs for fiber improvement.


April 21, 2020  |  

Petunia-and Arabidopsis-Specific Root Microbiota Responses to Phosphate Supplementation

Phosphorus (P) is a limiting element for plant growth. Several root microbes, including arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), have the capacity to improve plant nutrition and their abundance is known to depend on P fertility. However, how complex root-associated bacterial and fungal communities respond to various levels of P supplementation remains ill-defined. Here we investigated the responses of the root-associated bacteria and fungi to varying levels of P supply using 16S rRNA gene and internal transcribed spacer amplicon sequencing. We grew Petunia, which forms symbiosis with AMF, and the nonmycorrhizal model species Arabidopsis as a control in a soil that is limiting in plant-available P and we then supplemented the plants with complete fertilizer solutions that varied only in their phosphate concentrations. We searched for microbes, whose abundances varied by P fertilization, tested whether a core microbiota responding to the P treatments could be identified and asked whether bacterial and fungal co-occurrence patterns change in response to the varying P levels. Root microbiota composition varied substantially in response to the varying P application. A core microbiota was not identified as different bacterial and fungal groups responded to low-P conditions in Arabidopsis and Petunia. Microbes with P-dependent abundance patterns included Mortierellomycotina in Arabidopsis, while in Petunia, they included AMF and their symbiotic endobacteria. Of note, the P-dependent root colonization by AMF was reliably quantified by sequencing. The fact that the root microbiotas of the two plant species responded differently to low-P conditions suggests that plant species specificity would need to be considered for the eventual development of microbial products that improve plant P nutrition.


April 21, 2020  |  

Mutation of a bHLH transcription factor allowed almond domestication.

Wild almond species accumulate the bitter and toxic cyanogenic diglucoside amygdalin. Almond domestication was enabled by the selection of genotypes harboring sweet kernels. We report the completion of the almond reference genome. Map-based cloning using an F1 population segregating for kernel taste led to the identification of a 46-kilobase gene cluster encoding five basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors, bHLH1 to bHLH5. Functional characterization demonstrated that bHLH2 controls transcription of the P450 monooxygenase-encoding genes PdCYP79D16 and PdCYP71AN24, which are involved in the amygdalin biosynthetic pathway. A nonsynonymous point mutation (Leu to Phe) in the dimerization domain of bHLH2 prevents transcription of the two cytochrome P450 genes, resulting in the sweet kernel trait. Copyright © 2019 The Authors, some rights reserved; exclusive licensee American Association for the Advancement of Science. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.


April 21, 2020  |  

Genome assembly of a tropical maize inbred line provides insights into structural variation and crop improvement.

Maize is one of the most important crops globally, and it shows remarkable genetic diversity. Knowledge of this diversity could help in crop improvement; however, gold-standard genomes have been elucidated only for modern temperate varieties. Here, we present a high-quality reference genome (contig N50 of 15.78?megabases) of the maize small-kernel inbred line, which is derived from a tropical landrace. Using haplotype maps derived from B73, Mo17 and SK, we identified 80,614 polymorphic structural variants across 521 diverse lines. Approximately 22% of these variants could not be detected by traditional single-nucleotide-polymorphism-based approaches, and some of them could affect gene expression and trait performance. To illustrate the utility of the diverse SK line, we used it to perform map-based cloning of a major effect quantitative trait locus controlling kernel weight-a key trait selected during maize improvement. The underlying candidate gene ZmBARELY ANY MERISTEM1d provides a target for increasing crop yields.


April 21, 2020  |  

Wild relatives of maize

Crop domestication changed the course of human evolution, and domestication of maize (Zea mays L. subspecies mays), today the world’s most important crop, enabled civilizations to flourish and has played a major role in shaping the world we know today. Archaeological and ethnobotanical research help us understand the development of the cultures and the movements of the peoples who carried maize to new areas where it continued to adapt. Ancient remains of maize cobs and kernels have been found in the place of domestication, the Balsas River Valley (~9,000 years before present era), and the cultivation center, the Tehuacan Valley (~5,000 years before present era), and have been used to study the process of domestication. Paleogenomic data showed that some of the genes controlling the stem and inflorescence architecture were comparable to modern maize, while other genes controlling ear shattering and starch biosynthesis retain high levels of variability, similar to those found in the wild relative teosinte. These results indicate that the domestication process was both gradual and complex, where different genetic loci were selected at different points in time, and that the transformation of teosinte to maize was completed in the last 5,000 years. Mesoamerican native cultures domesticated teosinte and developed maize from a 6 cm long, popping-kernel ear to what we now recognize as modern maize with its wide variety in ear size, kernel texture, color, size, and adequacy for diverse uses and also invented nixtamalization, a process key to maximizing its nutrition. Used directly for human and animal consumption, processed food products, bioenergy, and many cultural applications, it is now grown on six of the world’s seven continents. The study of its evolution and domestication from the wild grass teosinte helps us understand the nature of genetic diversity of maize and its wild relatives and gene expression. Genetic barriers to direct use of teosinte or Tripsacum in maize breeding have challenged our ability to identify valuable genes and traits, let alone incorporate them into elite, modern varieties. Genomic information and newer genetic technologies will facilitate the use of wild relatives in crop improvement; hence it is more important than ever to ensure their conservation and availability, fundamental to future food security. In situ conservation efforts dedicated to preserving remnant populations of wild relatives in Mexico are key to safeguarding the genetic diversity of maize and its genepool, as well as enabling these species to continue to adapt to dynamic climate and environmental changes. Genebank ex situ efforts are crucial to securely maintain collected wild relative resources and to provide them for gene discovery and other research efforts.


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.


April 21, 2020  |  

Systematic analysis of dark and camouflaged genes reveals disease-relevant genes hiding in plain sight.

The human genome contains “dark” gene regions that cannot be adequately assembled or aligned using standard short-read sequencing technologies, preventing researchers from identifying mutations within these gene regions that may be relevant to human disease. Here, we identify regions with few mappable reads that we call dark by depth, and others that have ambiguous alignment, called camouflaged. We assess how well long-read or linked-read technologies resolve these regions.Based on standard whole-genome Illumina sequencing data, we identify 36,794 dark regions in 6054 gene bodies from pathways important to human health, development, and reproduction. Of these gene bodies, 8.7% are completely dark and 35.2% are =?5% dark. We identify dark regions that are present in protein-coding exons across 748 genes. Linked-read or long-read sequencing technologies from 10x Genomics, PacBio, and Oxford Nanopore Technologies reduce dark protein-coding regions to approximately 50.5%, 35.6%, and 9.6%, respectively. We present an algorithm to resolve most camouflaged regions and apply it to the Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project. We rescue a rare ten-nucleotide frameshift deletion in CR1, a top Alzheimer’s disease gene, found in disease cases but not in controls.While we could not formally assess the association of the CR1 frameshift mutation with Alzheimer’s disease due to insufficient sample-size, we believe it merits investigating in a larger cohort. There remain thousands of potentially important genomic regions overlooked by short-read sequencing that are largely resolved by long-read technologies.


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