Until recently, most population-scale genome sequencing studies have focused on identifying single nucleotide variants (SNVs) to explore genetic differences between individuals. Like so many SNV-based genome-wide association studies, however, these efforts have had difficulty identifying causative genetic mechanisms underlying most complex functions. More and more, the genomics community has realised that structural variation is likely responsible for many of the traits and phenotypes that scientists have not been able to attribute to SNVs. This class of variants, defined as genetic differences of 50 bp or larger, accounts for most of the DNA sequence differences between any two people. Structural variants (SVs) are also already known to cause many common and rare diseases including ALS, schizophrenia, leukemia, Carney complex, and Huntington’s disease. Despite the importance of SVs, these larger variants have been understudied and underreported compared to their single-nucleotide counterparts. One reason is that they remain difficult to detect. Their length often means they cannot be fully spanned using short sequencing reads. They also often occur in highly repetitive or GC-rich regions of the genome, making them challenging targets. As such, this class of human genetic variation has remained vastly under-explored in global populations and is now ripe for discovery.
Journal: Front line genomics magazine