long read sequencing


Exploring the Exome and the Future of Genomics with Jay Shendure

Back in 2009, University of Washington professor, Jay Shendure, wrote a definitive paper offering up a roadmap for exome sequencing. Since then, the cost of sequencing has come down so far that many have debated whether or not to do whole genome sequencing vs. just the exome.  

As it turns out, the exome, as a unit, has been very fruitful for both clinicians and scientists, particularly in the area of rare disease discovery and diagnosis. Most genetic testing companies these days have the exome on their product lists.

In today's program, Jay says that we are still in the heyday of the exome; there is still much low hanging fruit.   However, some eight years after his landmark paper, he warns we will soon come to the end of that cycle.

“There clearly is a lot that we haven’t explained. But doing the same thing over and over again isn’t going to get us there. We’ve got to take a step back and systematically investigate the various explanations for the keys that aren’t clearly labeled and not under the lamppost.”

What are some examples of new hypotheses for decoding the genome? Jay points to searching in non-coding regions, epigenetic mechanisms, somatic mosaisicm, and di-genic mutations.

As we go ever deeper into the genome, what are Jay's thoughts on the need for going wider with lots of genomes? And is he on the same page with his UW colleague, Evan Eichler, when it comes to long reads?

Jay is a scientist's scientist. Coming out of George Church's lab at Harvard, he's worked over the years on new methods for genomicists. One of his latest projects dives into developmental biology. He says we've spent a lot of time looking at the "what" of genomics. Now it's time to look at the “how” and “why."

Cardiologists Love Genomics: Euan Ashley, Stanford

Euan Ashley is one of the big names in genomic medicine that has been missing from our guest list. We’re happy to correct that today.

In 2010, he led the team who did the first clinical interpretation of a human genome--that of his Stanford colleague, Steve Quake. Since then Euan, an MD PhD, has been driving to make the use of new genomic tools and discoveries a routine part of medicine at Stanford, particularly in his own discipline of cardiology.

A regular speaker on the conference circuit, Euan titles his talks, "Genomic Medicine Is Here."

"There were these one off examples of great stories that captured everyone’s imagination,” he says at the outset "but somewhere in there, what happened is it just became routine. And we started sending exome and genome sequences on patients and using that information to help find a cause, and in some cases, treatment for their condition. We were all waiting for it to happen, but it just happened under our noses.”

At the same time, Euan acknowledges that he “loses sleep at night” over “dark corners of the genome.” What are these dark corners? What recent findings were made by new long read sequencing? How has genomics impacted cardiology?

We begin with the question, if genomic medicine is here, why are there still so many skeptics?

Join us in our first interview with one of the few jazz saxophonists in our field, someone who knew he wanted to be a doctor at age four but wasn’t inspired by science--that is, until a high school teacher handed him a copy of Richard Dawkins' “The Selfish Gene” after class.

People Told Us It Was Impossible: UCSC’s Mark Akeson on Nanopore Sequencing

Mark Akeson has been working on nanopore sequencing at UC Santa Cruz’s biophysics lab for twenty years. Up until the past few years with the launch of Oxford Nanopore’s sequencers, that work was mostly the methodical toil of the quiet inventor.

Today it is quite ordinary to see a sequencer the size of your wallet being taken out into the field for DNA work. But for years, the naysayers dominated.

“Back in the day, the skeptics outnumbered the proponents 99 to 1,” Mark says in today’s show.

In his beginning-of-the-year blog, NIH Director, Francis Collins, called nanopore sequencing one of the four breakthroughs of 2016. And the NIH deserves some credit.   Mark says they were constant in their funding and belief in the technology.

With the success of nanopore sequencing technology has come legal battles to secure the IP.   Both Illumina and PacBio have sued Oxford Nanopore—the Illumina suit is now settled. And at the end of last month, Akeson’s lab (meaning the University of California) sued Genia, claiming that they owned the patents for Genia’s technology.  Genia was founded in 2009 and we have interviewed them several times since 2011.

“There's the old adage about once something succeeds, there’s all sorts of people who claim to have invented it,” says Mark.  

So what’s next for Mark? Is he on board the “long read train?” How much more can sequencing improve?

 

When Long Reads are Double the Price of Short Reads, Short Reads Are Dead, Says Evan Eichler

Each year at this time, sequencing tools leader, Illumina, generates another round of sequencing buzz in the industry, this year by announcing the $100 genome is around the corner with their latest boxes. But more and more, people are asking just what they will get with that $100. Indeed, what do they get today with a $1,500 genome?

Illumina sells short read sequencing technology which is unable to characterize much of the human genome, particularly complex regions which are responsible for many of the known and unknown diseases.

Today’s guest has made his career studying structural variation of the genome. He’s done it with the rapidly improving long read sequencing technology, mostly on instruments produced by Pacific Biosciences. He says researchers have been seduced by the ability to sequence thousands and tens of thousands of genomes as opposed to understanding five or ten genomes really well.

Evan Eichler is a professor of genomics at the University of Washington and first made his name known back with the original Human Genome Project. In the final days of the project, he was brought into the NIH to analyze the genome for structural variation repeats. Neither the private Venter enterprise nor the public attempt had the ability to see them at the time, and with what Evan calls his “young, stupid naivety," he waded into the project. He was able to compare data from the two groups without getting too caught up in the politics and ended up making an important contribution to the final output. Today Evan has established himself so well in the structural variation space that it is said no project into structural variation can be conceived without him.

“Work that we have done over the past couple years has shown that if you apply a new sequencing technology like long reads, you basically uncover 90% of the structural variation that is missed by short read sequencing technology.”

That’s a big number.

“That is a big number,” says Evan, “so the question is, how important are structural variations? That’s open to debate.”

Evan says there is data which shows that structural variant level changes are likely to be more impactful than those of single nucleotide variants (SNVs). He compares SNVs to little tremors and structural changes to earthquakes when it comes to regulating the genome.

As with his mentor, Jim Lupski, (featured on the program here), Evan is adamant that we must stop using short read technology and aligning to a reference genome. Rather, he says, we must get to the place where we are doing de novo assembly of each genome. We can do that in the research setting now, but we must do that clinically as well.

“If we’re still aligning sequences to a reference genome, and that’s our only way for understanding genetic variation ten years from now, clinically we’ve failed. What we need to think about is how to do this right, and that means understanding all the variation from stem to stern in these genomes."

Reference Genome Making Major Strides in Ethnic Diversity, Says Valerie Schneider, NCBI

A couple months back, we reported on a study showing that genetic tests for an inherited heart disorder were more likely to come back with false positive results for black Americans than for whites. The study provoked many in our industry to urge scientists to incorporate more ethnic diversity in their studies. So far, biology has been too Eurocentric—the databases are implicitly racist, they argue.

Perhaps no dataset for human genomics is referenced more than the human reference genome, or the GRCh38. This is the "Rosetta Stone” of genomics used by scientists and clinicians everywhere who are assembling and studying genomes. Valerie Schneider is a scientist at the NCBI who works everyday on the GRCh38. She says major strides--enabled in part by better sequencing technologies--have been made lately to add diversity to the GRCh38 and to create other reference genomes for various populations around the globe.

The populations represented with these new projects include a Han genome, a Puerto Rican, a Yoruban, a Columbian, a Gambian, a Luhya, a Vietnamese, and one or two more Europeans.

“The sequence from these genomes is planned for correcting errors and adding new "alt loci" to the reference genome. But these new assemblies are also intended to stand on their own as complements to the reference,” says Valerie.

Valerie reminds us that it’s still early days in genomics. There’s so much diversity in the human population that her team is not sure whether having a single reference for each of these ethnic groups will be sufficient.

With more reference genomes comes the challenge of how best to compare and visualize them. There is a major need for tools that can show large nests of sequence as opposed to a linear reference, she says in today’s interview.

What is Valerie's take on the term “reference quality genomes”, and how will a better reference genome improve precision medicine?

Knowing More about What We Don’t Know: John McPherson on Cancer Genomics

More than with any other major disease, the understanding and treatment of cancer is being transformed by genomics. And these are early days.

John McPherson has been involved in sequencing since the original Human Genome Project. He now directs the Genome Technologies Program at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. John chaired a panel on cancer genomics at the recent AGBT, or Advances in Genome Biology and Technology conference, and shares his thoughts on this year's meeting.

Like many others, John is excited about the new possibilities gained by long read sequencing, particularly in showing structural variations of various cancers.

We ask John which platforms he likes, and most importantly--in this day with increasing sequencing instrument options--how he decides how much to spend on sequencing to answer a specific question.

"Our goal is to be as accurate as we can," he says. "For single nucleotide variants (SNPs), we see about a 93-95% verification rate. And we’re pretty happy with that. The question becomes how many samples you do, and not what you do to a sample. Depending what question you’re asking, the number of samples affects your power overall.”

John works in Ontario. We ask him about the state of clinical genomics in Canada, a country with a single payer system.

Gene & Tonic: Disruption in Sequencing, Scientist Politicians, Some Cool Synbio

Join Theral for a quick wrap-up of the week's biotech news:

The biggest news this week has been the flow of stories coming from last week’s AGBT conference held in Florida. This is the annual all out party for the all out darling of our industry, the sequencing space. Like a debutante ball, it’s where anybody who’s anybody comes out and does their curtsy to society.

This year’s debut favorite was no doubt 10X Genomics. It turns out they can almost turn water into wine. Well, almost. What they do is turn short reads into long reads, piggybacking on Illumina’s technology. Have you been following our series on the rise of long read sequencing? It turns out that scientists just decided that they want to actually see the whole genome. Hence the use of long reads.

Illumina has reigned king in sequencing for several years, but their platform is based on short reads. We heard from one of our guests on the program this week that Illumina’s dominance is vulnerable. David Smith at the Mayo Clinic says their platform is about maxed out. Instead he looks for some big stuff from BGI.

Huh? BGI? Isn’t that just Illumina’s platform? Well no. He’s talking about Complete Genomics. Remember them? They were at one time a debut darling then got sold to BGI for a song and a dance. (Every debut is followed by a depression, isn’t it?) But we heard this week that Complete’s still got some juice. David Smith says they’ll be coming out with an assembled human genome for $1,000 come June. That’s an assembled genome.

But this is unofficial. BGI/Complete were not saying anything at AGBT. According to all accounts, the biggest presence at the conference was PacBio. They held this workshop with an incredible lineup of scientific superstars. Temporarily the IQ in the state of Florida rose to the national average.

Craig Venter was there. We heard PacBio flew him in on a private jet with a private security detail.

I mean. Wow. Treatment like the President of the United States.

In fact, I’m going to ask why doesn’t Venter just run for president in 2016? Right, why can’t we have a scientist president? Scientists and technologists are basically in control of the planet anyway. Why not get some on Capitol Hill and recognize them for who they already are.

We found out this week that Harold Varmus is stepping down from the NCI. Why doesn’t he run for a higher office? Why do scientists give up at that level?

Did you see the Science Magazine article this week about the one lone physicist in congress. Bill Foster of Illinois. The news was that he is joining the science committee in the House of Representatives. Wait--there is a scientist committee in congress? So who else is on it then? The lone physicist congressman was quoted in the article:

“There are good conversations to be had on both sides of the aisle. But it’s important that those be fact-based.”

D’ya think?

We asked George Church of Harvard why he doesn’t run for the senate. He looks very senatorial, right? He wrote back and said that if he wanted to hang out with a bunch of Neanderthals, he prefer they be of his own make.

No, he didn’t really say that. We made that up.

But speaking of synthetic biology projects, one of our guests this week is making color changing flowers. You can see it on video. These flowers literally change to another color while you’re watching them. Isn’t it just amazing what mankind can do when we get bored? Next thing you know, we’ll be bringing back smallpox, polio and the measles to the U.S. Because living in the age of vaccines just hasn’t been fun enough.

And that’s Gene & Tonic for Friday March 6th. Stay tuned next week when we’ll continue our conversation on long reads with a researcher from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. We’ll also be talking about arrays in this age of sequencing in an exclusive interview with the CEO of Affymetrix, Frank Witney.

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Test Driving Genomic Medicine: Thomas Quertermous, Stanford

Guest:

Thomas Quertermous, Director of Research, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Stanford University Bio and Contact Info

Listen (7:45) Close, but not quite there

Listen (5:34) How good are the commercial bioinformatics providers?

Listen (8:19) The challenge of education

Listen (5:12) Genetics and heart disease

Listen (2:55) Where do you put the price for whole genome interpretation?

Listen (2:32) Are long reads a big deal?

Thomas Quertermous co-chairs a pretty spectacular committee at Stanford. Called the Dean’s Panel on Clinical Genomic Testing, the committee makes the call on which genetic tests are ready for prime time in the clinic. Thomas joins us to launch our new series, Genomic Medicine Today: Where Are We?

The goal of this series is to find out just what practical progress we’ve made in commercializing whole genome sequencing. What are the success cases? How many are there really? What are the obstacles and keys to progress?

TQ, as he's known in the industry, recently co-authored a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that provided a snapshot of just where we’re at today with genomic medicine. The conclusion? We’re close, but not quite there.

The key to clinical whole genome sequencing, he suggests, is to come to it with the question of "what you hope to learn from the adventure."

“I think it’s good if you start with a goal and try to stick to that goal rather than create an all encompassing analysis of the genome," he says in today’s interview.

As for challenges, TQ says that we need better healthcare informatics solutions, and always, better education at the provider level.

What are his thoughts on the leading commercial solutions for whole genome interpretation, and does it really cost $100,000? What does TQ think about the rise of long read sequencing led by PacBio this past year?

Join us as we begin a new series probing the front lines of clinical genomics.

Podcast brought to you by: Omicia - Offering end-to-end genome interpretation and reporting solutions to help diagnostic labs and research institutions unlock the potential of individualized medicine.

The Progress of Clinical Genomics in Sweden with Ulf Gyllensten

Guest:

Ulf Gyllensten, Professor, Department of Immunology, Genetics, and Pathology, Uppsala University, Sweden Bio and Contact Info

Listen (4:24) What are your goals at the National Genomics Infrastructure?

Listen (4:42) PacBio revolutionizing HLA typing

Listen (4:01) Getting the word about long reads out to clinicians

Listen (3:17) What would you like to see from sequencing companies in the future?

Listen (8:03) An update on clinical genomics in Sweden

Listen (5:02) The Road Show

For our final show in the series on long read sequencing, we move to Sweden and talk to Ulf Gyllensten, Co-Director of the National Genomics Infrastructure.

Ulf and his team use all the major sequencing platforms, and one of their jobs at the NGI is to compare the platforms. In today’s interview, he tells of the goals at the NGI and how new long read technology from PacBio is opening up new applications.

Some of these applications are clinical, and Ulf gives an update on clinical genomics in Sweden where regulation and privacy concerns are much more straight forward than they are here in the U.S.

Podcast brought to you by: Pacific Biosciences - providers of long read sequencing solutions based on their Single Molecule Real Time technology.

Test Driving Illumina's X Ten with Shawn Baker, AllSeq

Guest:

Shawn Baker, CSO, AllSeq Bio and Contact Info

Listen (5:27) Taking the X Ten for a test drive

Listen (6:56) What is the latest price for a whole human genome sequence through Allseq?

Listen (3:05) Illumina's bold move into clinical space

Listen (7:17) NGS story of the year: X Ten or long reads?

Listen (7:24) Latest from Oxford Nanopore and Genia

In January, Illumina made headlines by announcing that their new HiSeq X Ten sequencers now can deliver the $,1000 genome.

“Sort of “. . . says today’s guest, Shawn Baker, the co-founder and CSO of AllSeq. They are an online marketplace connecting providers and users of sequencing. AllSeq offers their users a way to get access to a close to $1,000 genome without having to shell out the big capital.

Recently AllSeq teamed up with one of their providers, the Garvan Institute, an early adopter of the X 10 system, along with the bioinformatics platform, DNAnexus, to do a test drive on the expensive but impressive new devices. They are offering a free look at the data here.

Having Shawn on the program is always a chance to get an overall perspective on the sequencing space. What are his thoughts on the emerging importance of PacBio's long reads? And what's the latest from Oxford Nanopore and Genia Technologies?

Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."



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