Solving puzzles without a picture

January 10, 2013

One of the most difficult problems in the field of genomics is assembling relatively short "reads" of DNA into complete chromosomes. In a new paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences an interdisciplinary group of genome and computer scientists has solved this problem, creating an algorithm that can rapidly create "virtual chromosomes" with no prior information about how the genome is organized.

The powerful DNA sequencing methods developed about 15 years ago, known as next generation sequencing (NGS) technologies, create thousands of short fragments. In species whose genetics has already been extensively studied, existing information can be used to organize and order the NGS fragments, rather like using a sketch of the complete picture as a guide to a jigsaw puzzle. But as genome scientists push into less-studied species, it becomes more difficult to finish the puzzle.

To solve this problem, a team led by Harris Lewin, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology and vice chancellor for research at the University of California, Davis and Jian Ma, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign created a computer algorithm that uses the known chromosome organization of one or more known species and NGS information from a newly sequenced genome to create virtual chromosomes.

"We show for the first time that chromosomes can be assembled from NGS data without the aid of a preexisting genetic or physical map of the genome," Lewin said.

The new algorithm will be very useful for large-scale sequencing projects such as G10K, an effort to sequence 10,000 vertebrate genomes of which very few have a map, Lewin said.

"As we have shown previously, there is much to learn about phenotypic evolution from understanding how chromosomes are organized in one species relative to other species," he said.

The algorithm is called RACA (for reference-assisted chromosome assembly), co-developed by Jaebum Kim, now at Konkuk University, South Korea, and Denis Larkin of Aberystwyth University, Wales. Kim wrote the software tool which was evaluated using simulated data, standardized reference genome datasets as well as a primary NGS assembly of the newly sequenced Tibetan antelope genome generated by BGI (Shenzhen, China) in collaboration with Professor Ri-Li Ge at Qinghai University, China. Larkin led the experimental validation, in collaboration with scientists at BGI, proving that predictions of chromosome organization were highly accurate.

Ma said that the new RACA algorithm will perform even better as developing NGS technologies produce longer reads of DNA sequence.

"Even with what is expected from the newest generation of sequencers, complete chromosome assemblies will always be a difficult technical issue, especially for complex genomes. RACA predictions address this problem and can be incorporated into current NGS assembly pipelines," Ma said.
-end-
Additional coauthors on the paper are Qingle Cai, Asan, Yongfen Zhang, and Guojie Zhang, BGI-Shenzhen, China; Loretta Auvil and Boris Capitanu, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Research Foundation of Korea, Polish Grid Infrastructure Project, National Basic Research Program of China, Program of International S&T Cooperation of China and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

University of California - Davis

Related DNA Articles from Brightsurf:

A new twist on DNA origami
A team* of scientists from ASU and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) led by Hao Yan, ASU's Milton Glick Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, and director of the ASU Biodesign Institute's Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, has just announced the creation of a new type of meta-DNA structures that will open up the fields of optoelectronics (including information storage and encryption) as well as synthetic biology.

Solving a DNA mystery
''A watched pot never boils,'' as the saying goes, but that was not the case for UC Santa Barbara researchers watching a ''pot'' of liquids formed from DNA.

Junk DNA might be really, really useful for biocomputing
When you don't understand how things work, it's not unusual to think of them as just plain old junk.

Designing DNA from scratch: Engineering the functions of micrometer-sized DNA droplets
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) have constructed ''DNA droplets'' comprising designed DNA nanostructures.

Does DNA in the water tell us how many fish are there?
Researchers have developed a new non-invasive method to count individual fish by measuring the concentration of environmental DNA in the water, which could be applied for quantitative monitoring of aquatic ecosystems.

Zigzag DNA
How the cell organizes DNA into tightly packed chromosomes. Nature publication by Delft University of Technology and EMBL Heidelberg.

Scientists now know what DNA's chaperone looks like
Researchers have discovered the structure of the FACT protein -- a mysterious protein central to the functioning of DNA.

DNA is like everything else: it's not what you have, but how you use it
A new paradigm for reading out genetic information in DNA is described by Dr.

A new spin on DNA
For decades, researchers have chased ways to study biological machines.

From face to DNA: New method aims to improve match between DNA sample and face database
Predicting what someone's face looks like based on a DNA sample remains a hard nut to crack for science.

Read More: DNA News and DNA Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.