June 1, 2021  |  

Phased human genome assemblies with Single Molecule, Real-Time Sequencing

In recent years, human genomic research has focused on comparing short-read data sets to a single human reference genome. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that significant structural variations present in individual human genomes are missed or ignored by this approach. Additionally, remapping short-read data limits the phasing of variation among individual chromosomes. This reduces the newly sequenced genome to a table of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) with little to no information as to the co-linearity (phasing) of these variants, resulting in a “mosaic” reference representing neither of the parental chromosomes. The variation between the homologous chromosomes is lost in this representation, including allelic variations, structural variations, or even genes present in only one chromosome, leading to lost information regarding allelic-specific gene expression and function. To address these limitations, we have made significant progress integrating haplotype information directly into genome assembly process with long reads. The FALCON-Unzip algorithm leverages a string graph assembly approach to facilitate identification and separation of heterozygosity during the assembly process to produce a highly contiguous assembly with phased haplotypes representing the genome in its diploid state. The outputs of the assembler are pairs of sequences (haplotigs) containing the allelic differences, including SNPs and structural variations, present in the two sets of chromosomes. The development and testing of our de-novo diploid assembler was facilitated and carefully validated using inbred reference model organisms and F1 progeny, which allowed us to ascertain the accuracy and concordance of haplotigs relative to the two inbred parental assemblies. Examination of the results confirmed that our haplotype-resolved assemblies are “Gold Level” reference genomes having a quality similar to that of Sanger-sequencing, BAC-based assembly approaches. We further sequenced and assembled two well-characterized human samples into their respective phased diploid genomes with gap-free contig N50 sizes greater than 23 Mb and haplotig N50 sizes greater than 380 kb. Results of these assemblies and a comparison between the haplotype sets are presented.


June 1, 2021  |  

No-amp targeted SMRT sequencing using a CRISPR-Cas9 enrichment method

Targeted sequencing of genomic DNA requires an enrichment method to generate detectable amounts of sequencing products. Genomic regions with extreme composition bias and repetitive sequences can pose a significant enrichment challenge. Many genetic diseases caused by repeat element expansions are representative of these challenging enrichment targets. PCR amplification, used either alone or in combination with a hybridization capture method, is a common approach for target enrichment. While PCR amplification can be used successfully with genomic regions of moderate to high complexity, it is the low-complexity regions and regions containing repetitive elements sometimes of indeterminate lengths due to repeat expansions that can lead to poor or failed PCR enrichment. We have developed an enrichment method for targeted SMRT Sequencing on the PacBio Sequel System using the CRISPR-Cas9 system that requires no PCR amplification. Briefly, a preformed SMRTbell library containing the target region of interest is cleaved with Cas9 through direct interaction with a sequence-specific guide RNA. After ligation with new poly(A) hairpin adapters, the asymmetric SMRTbell templates are enriched by magnetic bead separation. This method, paired with SMRT Sequencing’s long reads, high consensus accuracy, and uniform coverage, allows sequencing of genomic regions regardless of challenging sequence context that cannot be investigated with other technologies. The method is amenable to analyzing multiple samples and/or targets in a single reaction. In addition, this method also preserves epigenetic modifications allowing for the detection and characterization of DNA methylation which has been shown to be a key factor in the disease mechanism for some repeat expansion diseases. Here we present results of our latest No-Amp Targeted Sequencing procedure applied to the characterization of CAG triplet repeat expansions in the HTT gene responsible for Huntington’s Disease.


April 21, 2020  |  

Long-read sequencing for rare human genetic diseases.

During the past decade, the search for pathogenic mutations in rare human genetic diseases has involved huge efforts to sequence coding regions, or the entire genome, using massively parallel short-read sequencers. However, the approximate current diagnostic rate is <50% using these approaches, and there remain many rare genetic diseases with unknown cause. There may be many reasons for this, but one plausible explanation is that the responsible mutations are in regions of the genome that are difficult to sequence using conventional technologies (e.g., tandem-repeat expansion or complex chromosomal structural aberrations). Despite the drawbacks of high cost and a shortage of standard analytical methods, several studies have analyzed pathogenic changes in the genome using long-read sequencers. The results of these studies provide hope that further application of long-read sequencers to identify the causative mutations in unsolved genetic diseases may expand our understanding of the human genome and diseases. Such approaches may also be applied to molecular diagnosis and therapeutic strategies for patients with genetic diseases in the future.


April 21, 2020  |  

Profiling the genome-wide landscape of tandem repeat expansions.

Tandem repeat (TR) expansions have been implicated in dozens of genetic diseases, including Huntington’s Disease, Fragile X Syndrome, and hereditary ataxias. Furthermore, TRs have recently been implicated in a range of complex traits, including gene expression and cancer risk. While the human genome harbors hundreds of thousands of TRs, analysis of TR expansions has been mainly limited to known pathogenic loci. A major challenge is that expanded repeats are beyond the read length of most next-generation sequencing (NGS) datasets and are not profiled by existing genome-wide tools. We present GangSTR, a novel algorithm for genome-wide genotyping of both short and expanded TRs. GangSTR extracts information from paired-end reads into a unified model to estimate maximum likelihood TR lengths. We validate GangSTR on real and simulated data and show that GangSTR outperforms alternative methods in both accuracy and speed. We apply GangSTR to a deeply sequenced trio to profile the landscape of TR expansions in a healthy family and validate novel expansions using orthogonal technologies. Our analysis reveals that healthy individuals harbor dozens of long TR alleles not captured by current genome-wide methods. GangSTR will likely enable discovery of novel disease-associated variants not currently accessible from NGS. © The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.


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  |  

A 12-kb structural variation in progressive myoclonic epilepsy was newly identified by long-read whole-genome sequencing.

We report a family with progressive myoclonic epilepsy who underwent whole-exome sequencing but was negative for pathogenic variants. Similar clinical courses of a devastating neurodegenerative phenotype of two affected siblings were highly suggestive of a genetic etiology, which indicates that the survey of genetic variation by whole-exome sequencing was not comprehensive. To investigate the presence of a variant that remained unrecognized by standard genetic testing, PacBio long-read sequencing was performed. Structural variant (SV) detection using low-coverage (6×) whole-genome sequencing called 17,165 SVs (7,216 deletions and 9,949 insertions). Our SV selection narrowed down potential candidates to only five SVs (two deletions and three insertions) on the genes tagged with autosomal recessive phenotypes. Among them, a 12.4-kb deletion involving the CLN6 gene was the top candidate because its homozygous abnormalities cause neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis. This deletion included the initiation codon and was found in a GC-rich region containing multiple repetitive elements. These results indicate the presence of a causal variant in a difficult-to-sequence region and suggest that such variants that remain enigmatic after the application of current whole-exome sequencing technology could be uncovered by unbiased application of long-read whole-genome sequencing.


April 21, 2020  |  

Development of CRISPR-Cas systems for genome editing and beyond

The development of clustered regularly interspaced short-palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-Cas systems for genome editing has transformed the way life science research is conducted and holds enormous potential for the treatment of disease as well as for many aspects of biotech- nology. Here, I provide a personal perspective on the development of CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing within the broader context of the field and discuss our work to discover novel Cas effectors and develop them into additional molecular tools. The initial demonstra- tion of Cas9-mediated genome editing launched the development of many other technologies, enabled new lines of biological inquiry, and motivated a deeper examination of natural CRISPR-Cas systems, including the discovery of new types of CRISPR-Cas systems. These new discoveries in turn spurred further technological developments. I review these exciting discoveries and technologies as well as provide an overview of the broad array of applications of these technologies in basic research and in the improvement of human health. It is clear that we are only just beginning to unravel the potential within microbial diversity, and it is quite likely that we will continue to discover other exciting phenomena, some of which it may be possible to repurpose as molecular technologies. The transformation of mysterious natural phenomena to powerful tools, however, takes a collective effort to discover, characterize, and engineer them, and it has been a privilege to join the numerous researchers who have contributed to this transformation of CRISPR-Cas systems.


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  |  

Tandem-genotypes: robust detection of tandem repeat expansions from long DNA reads.

Tandemly repeated DNA is highly mutable and causes at least 31 diseases, but it is hard to detect pathogenic repeat expansions genome-wide. Here, we report robust detection of human repeat expansions from careful alignments of long but error-prone (PacBio and nanopore) reads to a reference genome. Our method is robust to systematic sequencing errors, inexact repeats with fuzzy boundaries, and low sequencing coverage. By comparing to healthy controls, we prioritize pathogenic expansions within the top 10 out of 700,000 tandem repeats in whole genome sequencing data. This may help to elucidate the many genetic diseases whose causes remain unknown.


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