Expectations and blind spots for structural variation detection from long-read assemblies and short-read genome sequencing technologies

Am J Hum Genet. 2021 May 6;108(5):919-928. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2021.03.014. Epub 2021 Mar 30.


Virtually all genome sequencing efforts in national biobanks, complex and Mendelian disease programs, and medical genetic initiatives are reliant upon short-read whole-genome sequencing (srWGS), which presents challenges for the detection of structural variants (SVs) relative to emerging long-read WGS (lrWGS) technologies. Given this ubiquity of srWGS in large-scale genomics initiatives, we sought to establish expectations for routine SV detection from this data type by comparison with lrWGS assembly, as well as to quantify the genomic properties and added value of SVs uniquely accessible to each technology. Analyses from the Human Genome Structural Variation Consortium (HGSVC) of three families captured ~11,000 SVs per genome from srWGS and ~25,000 SVs per genome from lrWGS assembly. Detection power and precision for SV discovery varied dramatically by genomic context and variant class: 9.7% of the current GRCh38 reference is defined by segmental duplication (SD) and simple repeat (SR), yet 91.4% of deletions that were specifically discovered by lrWGS localized to these regions. Across the remaining 90.3% of reference sequence, we observed extremely high (93.8%) concordance between technologies for deletions in these datasets. In contrast, lrWGS was superior for detection of insertions across all genomic contexts. Given that non-SD/SR sequences encompass 95.9% of currently annotated disease-associated exons, improved sensitivity from lrWGS to discover novel pathogenic deletions in these currently interpretable genomic regions is likely to be incremental. However, these analyses highlight the considerable added value of assembly-based lrWGS to create new catalogs of insertions and transposable elements, as well as disease-associated repeat expansions in genomic sequences that were previously recalcitrant to routine assessment.

Keywords: copy number variation; genome assembly; long-read technology; segmental duplication; simple repeats; structural variation; whole-genome sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • DNA Copy Number Variations
  • Exons / genetics
  • Genome, Human / genetics*
  • Genomic Structural Variation*
  • Genomics / methods*
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Research Design
  • Segmental Duplications, Genomic
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Whole Genome Sequencing / methods*
  • Whole Genome Sequencing / standards*