Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), along with collaborators at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), have published a genome sequence of an individual, J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., that covers both of his chromosome pairs (or diploid genome), one set being inherited from each of his parents.
Two other versions of the human genome currently exist—one published in 2001 by Dr. Venter and colleagues at Celera Genomics, and another at the same time by a consortium of government and foundation-funded researchers. These genomes were not of any single individual, but rather were a mosaic of DNA sequences from various donors. In the case of Celera it was a consensus assembly from five individuals, while the publicly-funded version was based on patching together sequences from over 100 anonymous human sources. Both versions greatly underestimated human genetic diversity.
This new genome (called HuRef) represents the first time a true diploid genome from one individual—Dr. Venter, has been published. The research is available in the open access public journal, PLoS Biology.
Researchers at the JCVI have been sequencing and analyzing this version of Dr. Venter’s genome since 2003. Building on reanalyzed data from Dr. Venter’s genome that constituted 60% of the previously published Celera genome, the team had the goal of constructing a definitive reference human genome based on one individual. Using whole genome shotgun sequencing and highly accurate DNA sequencing using Sanger-based chemistry, the team produced additional data which constitutes the final 32 million sequence reads.
From the combined data of more than 20 billion base pairs of DNA, the team was able to assemble the majority of Dr. Venter's genome. Since this genome assembly uniquely catalogues the contributions of each of the parental chromosomes, for the first time the amount of variation existing between the two could be determined. Surprisingly, a higher than expected amount of genetic variation was found to exist between the two human chromosomes.
“Each time we peer deeper into the human genome we uncover more valuable insight into our intricate biology,” said Dr. Venter. “With this publication we have shown that human to human variation is five to seven-fold greater than earlier estimates proving that we are in fact more unique at the individual genetic level than we thought.”
He added, “It is clear however that we are still at the earliest stages of discovery about ourselves and only with additional sequencing of more individual genomes will we garner a full understanding of how our genes influence our lives.”
According to Samuel Levy, Ph.D., lead author and senior scientist at JCVI, “The ability to use unbiased, high throughput, sequencing methods coupled with advance computational analytic methods, enables us to characterize more comprehensively the wide variety of individual genetic variation. This offers us an unprecedented opportunity to study the prevalence and impact of these DNA variants on traits and diseases in human populations.”