sequencing


BioNano Genomics Stakes Out Sequencing Territory as They Discover Lots of De Novo Variants in Reference Genome Projects

If you attended or followed the recent AGBT conference about all things sequencing, you probably saw a few BioNano Genomics t-shirts with the slogan, “Back to the Map.” They’re referring of course, to a genome map. Just like Google Maps, a genome map consists of landmarks that tell scientists where on the genome they are. But unlike Google Maps and more like the maps North America that were made by European explorers in the 17th century, the map of the human genome is quite incomplete, the map of a frontier.

Erik Holmlin is the CEO of BioNano Genomics which offers unique genome mapping technology. In today’s interview, Erik points out that content is not the only king, context is pretty important as well.

“You can go back and look at some of the early discussions that were happening around the beginning of the Human Genome Project. And in fact a lot of the leading scientists of the time, Maynard Olson, Bob Moyzis, and others, emphasized that as we’re doing this sequencing it’s going to be very important that we put the sequence in context of the physical organization of the genome. Otherwise we’re never going to understand it,” Holmlin says.

After the market has become dominated by “short read” sequencing with the race to the $1,000 genome—a drive many say has been steered by the NHGRI—BioNano is now cutting out some territory for their genome mapping technology. Their flagship projects have no doubt been their work on the reference genomes. Erik says that in a recent trio sequencing project of genomes of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, they were able to find “a lot of de novo variants,” or variants which had not been found with other sequencing technologies.

Though Erik has always had his eye on the clinic—in fact, he came to the tools space from the clinical diagnostics industry because he felt passionately that we needed better tools to develop clinically actionable genomic data—he admits at the end of today’s show that his time at BioNano has pulled him more into basic research.

“In some respects I underestimated the need for more basic research,” he says. “And what really needs to happen is we need to get the translational research efforts to focus on the structural picture much more because that’s going to break through and lead to many clinically significant discoveries.”

Human Genome Turns 15: Mike Hunkapiller

We’re all familiar with the announcement in the year 2000 by US President, Bill Clinton, and the UK’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that scientists had completed the first draft of the human genome. It was a big deal. But the actual publications didn’t happen until the next year, February of 2001. Which means that this February is the fifteenth anniversary of the publication of the first human genome. For our commemorative show we’re joined by Mike Hunkapiller, the CEO of Pacific Biosciences.

Mike and his team at PacBio are coming off a great year. Their stock is up. Their long read sequencing technology is used for over a thousand scientific publications. And last year they launched a new better, faster, cheaper instrument, the Sequel, which are sold out through the first half of this year. PacBio is cool again.

How much were tool makers in the driving seat of the genomic revolution? And how much further can sequencing improve? Before asking Mike this, we explore some of his memories of those wild days when sequencing the human genome got presidents and prime ministers on the phone with their speech writers.

Frontiers of Sequencing: Putting Long Reads and Graph Assemblies to Work

OK, so we get it. Long read sequencing technology is cool. But how cool? Is it another great player on the field, or does it change the game altogether? 

The Mike Schatz lab at Cold Spring Harbor is well know for de novo genome assemblies and their work on structural variation in cancer genomes, so we were curious to hear how long reads have impacted their work. In todays show, lab leader, Mike Schatz, and doctorate student, Maria Nattestad tell of two new projects that include the de novo assembly of a very difficult but important flatworm genome and, secondly, making better variant calls for oncogenes such as HER2.

In the case of the flatworm, Mike says that the move to using PacBio’s long reads improved the assembly by more than a 100 times. That means the difference of looking at a super high resolution picture versus a fuzzy, blurry one, he says. With her work on cancer cell lines, Maria is seeing variants that just weren’t there with short reads. Will her work translate to lower false positive rates for HER2 in clinical diagnostics?

What will be the major headline for sequencing and informatics in 2016?

Mike says we’ll see many more reference genomes done, that the term “reference genome” itself is changing as we go from the one standard reference genome to multiple reference genomes representing the broader population. These new reference genomes are pushing bioinformaticians to come up with new ways to visualize and compare the genomes. Maria details her work into using “graph” assemblies as opposed to the linear approach made popular by the Genome Browser. She says that already a new generation of informaticians are rethinking genome visualization using graph assemblies. (Included below is an image representing her work.)

Neither mentioned it, so we ask at the end, what about Oxford Nanopore’s tech?

 

(The spectral karyotype of the Her2-amplified breast cancer cell line SK-BR-3. The original chromosomes are different colors, so this genome is a complex mixture of various chromosomes. The total number of chromosomes has also jumped from 46 to 80, and there is approximately twice as much DNA as in a normal human genome. Maria Nattestad and Mike Schatz are studying this genome to see how oncogenes like Her2 became amplified while all these changes took place in the big picture of the genome.)

Gene and Tonic: A 2016 Timeline

 

Journalists listen to others telling them what actually happened all year long.  But for this one week at the first of the year, we like to make up our own stuff.

January - The general mood at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco is one of relief.  

“Last month the FBI caught the lead mastermind behind the pharma industry’s high drug prices, and he’ll be brought to justice,” says the CEO of a pharma giant to a room full of investors and journalists at the historic St. Francis Hotel.  “Problem solved.”

Cliff Reid to Resign as CEO of Complete after BGI Shakeup

 

Genome Web reported today that BGI has put Complete Genomics' recent launch of the Revolocity super sequencer "on hold." According to Complete CEO, Cliff Reid, BGI has been undergoing "a strategic reevaluation" since the surprise departure of their founder and chief executive, Jun Wang, back in July.

The Goal Is De Novo Assembly in the Clinic, Says Jim Lupski, Baylor

Today’s story is one of a personal quest, of groundbreaking science, and the creation of a new movement in human genomics.

Jim Lupski is a professor at Baylor College of Medicine where he’s on the frontline of incorporating genomic research into everyday clinical practice. The story begins with Jim’s own genome, which is perhaps the most sequenced genome ever. Jim's life as a leading genomic researcher has been driven in part for a strong personal reason. He has a rare genetic disease named after three researchers who first defined it, Charcot Marie Tooth Neuropathy.

What began as a personal journey to uncover the source of his own disease led Jim to seminal work that launched the field of structural variation. Working first in the gene-centric mindset of the 90’s, Jim's team discovered the first gene known to be associated with CMT disease, PMP22. But while this gene is related to 70% of the cases, it wasn't the mutation responsible for Jim's own version of CMT. His discovery of that would be some years later, and from a much better picture of his genome.

Find out in today’s interview where Jim thinks we are now in genomic science, and why he says the goal in the clinic should be a de novo assembly.

Cliff Reid Says New Supersequencer Leads the Pack for High Throughput Clinical Sequencing

Cliff Reid, CEO of Complete Genomics, is back on the conference circuit, touting a new product. After years of building his company to do sequencing as a service, Cliff presented data at last week's ASHG meeting on Complete's first sequencer as a product, or what they are calling the Revolocity supersequencer.

Cliff was a pioneer in developing the service model, offering only whole human genome sequencing. But after being bought out by BGI, who already had a service business in China, he was compelled to shift his business model to that of selling sequencers.

So where does this position Complete in an already crowded and mature sequencing tools market? And how does Cliff see the future of clinical sequencing? Cliff says that the new Revolocity offers the highest quality of any of the other sequencers. This is an impressive claim in a world where PacBio customers are saying they can get up to 100% accuracy with deep enough sequencing. As for throughput, the new supersequencer is similar to Illumina’s HiSeq X Ten system, producing about 10,000 whole human genomes per year.

However, Cliff says that high quality and high throughput are not the important part of the story here. “That's historically what people expected from us,” he says in today’s interview. "The most important thing we did with the Revolocity system is that we packaged it for clinical researchers and clinical use. The packaging is end-to-end.”

Strangely, in an age when longer sequencing reads have enabled genomic research to go to further heights, such as with HLA typing, the new Revolocity does not incorporate Complete’s LFR or Long Fragment Read technology. Long read sequencing is still a highly specialized effort, Cliff argues. Rather, he says, “we haven’t used the technology that we have today [short read technology]. What we need to do is sequence a million genomes."

Long Read Sequencing Dramatically Improves Blood Matching: Steven Marsh, Anthony Nolan Institute

One of the popular questions on the program this past year is how those doing sequencing decide between the quality of Pacific Bioscience's long reads and the cheaper short read technology, such as that of Illumina or Thermo Fisher. Today’s guest provides the most clear and dramatic answer yet: use the PacBio system exclusively.

We heard this from Steve Marsh, the Director of Bioinformatics at the Anthony Nolan Research Institute in London. Established in 1974 by the mother of a boy with a rare blood disease, the Anthony Nolan Institute is a world leader in blood crossmatching and donor/patient registries. Steve and his team at the Institute have dramatically improved the resolution of HLA typing, one of the methods for matching a donor’s blood tissue with that of the transplant recipient.

Thirty years ago when Steve entered the field, HLA typing was performed with serology and there were just 119 HLA antigens that were known. “We thought 119 was a lot of diversity,” says Steve. With the advent of genomic tools in the 90’s, HLA typing moved to the level of the genetic allele, done first with PCR and then with sequencing. “We knew that the HLA molecules were polymorphic, but now we know they are hyper-polymorphic. . . For example, 'A2' is a specificity, and serologically we recognized the specificity 'A2,' and that was it. We now recognize that there are over 500 different variants of A2,” Steve explains.

Knowing more about the incredible diversity of blood types can make achieving a donor/patient match seem all the more prohibitive. More variables mean fewer candidates. But research at the Anthony Nolan is now paying off and is robust enough to make a difference in the clinic. Ideally blood registries will provide precise matches and do so immediately.

All this explains why Steve is so keen on the PacBio system. In a field where the quality of the sequencing makes the difference between the right match and not, the increased price of the longer reads is worth it.

Finally, it should be said that we recorded this interview with Steve just before PacBio announced their new higher throughput Sequel Sequencer. This new smaller footprint instrument is promised out in 2016 at half the price, seven times the throughput and with the same high quality long reads. The decision between quality and price in the world of sequencing will soon be easier.

Behind the Sequencing Bench with Dale Yuzuki

Will tech companies like Google and Apple be good at life science applications? We pursue this question today with Dale Yuzuki, the avid life science blogger, scientist, and now a marketing manager at Thermo Fisher. (See his recent blog, The Core Competency of Google Is Not Life Sciences.)

In addition to his personal blog, Dale is developing a blog for Thermo called 'Behind the Bench' where among other topics, he tracks the latest in sequencing. We ask Dale what happened to the Ion Proton, whether the recent trend toward long reads makes the Proton vulnerable, and just how his customers go about deciding which sequencer to buy. Adept on both sides of the bench, Dale is comfortable on both sides of the interview table as well.

It’s Pretty Bad: Andy Brooks of RUCDR on Sample Quality

The future of diagnostics is in the hands of those taking care of the biospecimen samples says, Andy Brooks our final guest in the series, Improving Biospecimen Standards. Andy is the Chief Operating Officer at Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository, or RUCDR.

While acknowledging that the current state of tissue sample collection, handling and storage is “pretty bad,”  Andy points to areas where progress has been made. And he would know. RUCDR serves as the biorepository for 4 NIH institutes. A biobank such as RUCDR is a unique place where various segments of biomedical research—academia, industry, regulation-- come together.

Andy was at the convergence summit put together last December by Carolyn Compton and the National Biomarker Development Alliance (see our interview with Carolyn here) to develop some standards in this area. While he’s excited to see Carolyn rally the community and bring CAP and the FDA on board, he sounds a warning.

“There’s only so much you can do to standardize samples at the time of collection and control for variables, some of which are uncontrollable," he says.

So what can be done?

Andy and his colleagues at RUCDR have made important strides toward developing what one of our former guests called a "tissue quality index,” a score that will tell you whether a sample in storage is what you think it is. While they don’t have an overall score yet, Andy and his team have worked with companies like Fluidigm and Wafergen to develop a panel that measures the quality of some analytes and can predict the performance of a sample.

We end the interview with Andy’s thoughts on the future of genomic consent.

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