The missing indels: an estimate of indel variation in a human genome and analysis of factors that impede detection

Nucleic Acids Res. 2015 Sep 3;43(15):7217-28. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkv677. Epub 2015 Jun 30.


With the development of High-Throughput Sequencing (HTS) thousands of human genomes have now been sequenced. Whenever different studies analyze the same genome they usually agree on the amount of single-nucleotide polymorphisms, but differ dramatically on the number of insertion and deletion variants (indels). Furthermore, there is evidence that indels are often severely under-reported. In this manuscript we derive the total number of indel variants in a human genome by combining data from different sequencing technologies, while assessing the indel detection accuracy. Our estimate of approximately 1 million indels in a Yoruban genome is much higher than the results reported in several recent HTS studies. We identify two key sources of difficulties in indel detection: the insufficient coverage, read length or alignment quality; and the presence of repeats, including short interspersed elements and homopolymers/dimers. We quantify the effect of these factors on indel detection. The quality of sequencing data plays a major role in improving indel detection by HTS methods. However, many indels exist in long homopolymers and repeats, where their detection is severely impeded. The true number of indel events is likely even higher than our current estimates, and new techniques and technologies will be required to detect them.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alu Elements
  • Animals
  • Base Composition
  • DNA Mutational Analysis / methods*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome, Human*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing / methods*
  • Humans
  • INDEL Mutation*
  • Primates
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid