Comparative scaffolding and gap filling of ancient bacterial genomes applied to two ancient Yersinia pestis genomes

Microb Genom. 2017 Jul 8;3(9):e000123. doi: 10.1099/mgen.0.000123. eCollection 2017 Sep.


Yersinia pestis is the causative agent of the bubonic plague, a disease responsible for several dramatic historical pandemics. Progress in ancient DNA (aDNA) sequencing rendered possible the sequencing of whole genomes of important human pathogens, including the ancient Y. pestis strains responsible for outbreaks of the bubonic plague in London in the 14th century and in Marseille in the 18th century, among others. However, aDNA sequencing data are still characterized by short reads and non-uniform coverage, so assembling ancient pathogen genomes remains challenging and often prevents a detailed study of genome rearrangements. It has recently been shown that comparative scaffolding approaches can improve the assembly of ancient Y. pestis genomes at a chromosome level. In the present work, we address the last step of genome assembly, the gap-filling stage. We describe an optimization-based method AGapEs (ancestral gap estimation) to fill in inter-contig gaps using a combination of a template obtained from related extant genomes and aDNA reads. We show how this approach can be used to refine comparative scaffolding by selecting contig adjacencies supported by a mix of unassembled aDNA reads and comparative signal. We applied our method to two Y. pestis data sets from the London and Marseilles outbreaks, for which we obtained highly improved genome assemblies for both genomes, comprised of, respectively, five and six scaffolds with 95 % of the assemblies supported by ancient reads. We analysed the genome evolution between both ancient genomes in terms of genome rearrangements, and observed a high level of synteny conservation between these strains.

Keywords: Yersinia pestis; ancestral reconstruction; assembly; comparative genomics.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Contig Mapping / methods*
  • DNA, Ancient*
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • France / epidemiology
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • London / epidemiology
  • Pandemics / history
  • Phylogeny
  • Plague / epidemiology
  • Plague / history
  • Plague / microbiology*
  • Yersinia pestis / genetics*


  • DNA, Ancient
  • DNA, Bacterial