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Genome projects are scientific endeavours that ultimately aim to determine the complete genome sequence of an organism (be it an animal, a plant, a fungus, a bacterium, an archaean, a protist or a virus). The genome sequence for any organism requires the DNA sequences for each of the chromosomes in an organism to be determined. For bacteria, which usually have just one chromosome, a genome project will aim to map the sequence of that chromosome. Humans, with 22 pairs of chromosomes and 2 sex chromosomes, will require 24 separate chromosome sequences in order to represent the completed genome.
The Human Genome Project was a landmark genome project and some have argued that the era of genomics is one of the more fundamental advances in human history.
Additional recommended knowledge
Genome assembly refers to the process of taking a large number of short DNA sequences, all of which were generated by a shotgun sequencing project, and putting them back together to create a representation of the original chromosomes from which the DNA originated. In a shotgun sequencing project, all the DNA from a source (usually a single organism, anything from a bacterium to a mammal) is first fractured into millions of small pieces. These pieces are then "read" by automated sequencing machines, which can read up to 900 nucleotides or bases at a time. (The four bases are adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine, represented as AGCT.) A genome assembly algorithm works by taking all the pieces and aligning them to one another, and detecting all places where two of the short sequences, or reads, overlap. These overlapping reads can be merged together, and the process continues.
Genome assembly is a very difficult computational problem, made more difficult because genomes contain large numbers of identical sequences, known as repeats. These repeats can be thousands of nucleotides long, and some occur in thousands of different locations, especially in the large genomes of plants and animals.
Most research institutes that sequence DNA use their own software for assembling the sequences that they produce. Some well known assembly programs include:
Phred/Phrap by Phil Green
AMOS (A Modular, Open-Source assembler) is a well-known open source effort to bring together the efforts of leading genome assembly code developers. The home of AMOS is currently http://amos.sourceforge.net. AMOS was initiated at The Institute for Genomic Research by Steven Salzberg, Mihai Pop, and Art Delcher.
The Celera Assembler was the assembler developed by Gene Myers, Granger Sutton, Art Delcher, and others at Celera Genomics from 1998 until approximately 2002. It was moved to SourceForge and continues to be developed by the original scientists and others, at http://sourceforge.net/projects/wgs-assembler.
The Arachne assembler began in 2000 as the doctoral thesis of Serafim Batzoglou, now at Stanford University. Since that time, it has been developed by a team lead by David B. Jaffe at the Broad Institute, formerly part of the Whitehead Institute. It is available for download at http://www.broad.mit.edu/wga/.
Genome annotation is the process of attaching biological information to sequences. It consists of two main steps:
Automatic annotation tools try to perform all this by computer analysis, as opposed to manual annotation which involves human expertise. Ideally, these approaches co-exist and complement each other in the same annotation pipeline.
The basic level of annotation is using BLAST for finding similarities, and then annotating genomes based on that. However, nowadays more and more additional information is added to the annotation platform. The additional information allows manual annotators to deconvolute discrepancies between genes that are given the same annotation.
For example, the SEED database uses genome context information, similarity scores, experimental data, and integrations of other resources to provide the most accurate genome annotations through their Subsystems approach.
Structural annotation consists in the identification of genomic elements.
Functional annotation consists in attaching biological information to genomic elements.
These steps may involve both biological experiments and in silico analysis.
A variety of software tools have been developed to permit scientists to view and share genome annotations.
When is a genome project finished?
When sequencing a genome, there are usually regions that are difficult to sequence (often regions with highly repetitive DNA). Thus, 'completed' genome sequences are rarely ever complete, and terms such as 'working draft' or 'essentially complete' have been used to more accurately describe the status of such genome projects. Even when every base pair of a genome sequence has been determined, there are still likely to be errors present because DNA sequencing is not a completely accurate process. It could also be argued that a complete genome project should include the sequences of mitochondria and (for plants) chloroplasts as these organelles have their own genomes.
It is often reported that the goal of sequencing a genome is to obtain information about the complete set of genes in that particular genome sequence. The proportion of a genome that encodes for genes may be very small (particularly in eukaryotes such as humans, where coding DNA may only account for a few percent of the entire sequence). However, it is not always possible (or desirable) to only sequence the coding regions separately. Also, as scientists understand more about the role of this noncoding DNA (often referred to as junk DNA), it will become more important to have a complete genome sequence as a background to understanding the genetics and biology of any given organism.
In many ways genome projects do not confine themselves to only determining a DNA sequence of an organism. Such projects may also include gene prediction to find out where the genes are in a genome, and what those genes do. There may also be related projects to sequence ESTs or mRNAs to help find out where the genes actually are.
Historical and Technological Perspectives
Historically, when sequencing eukaryotic genomes (such as the worm Caenorhabditis elegans) it was common to first map the genome to provide a series of landmarks across the genome. Rather than sequence a chromosome in one go, it would be sequenced piece by piece (with the prior knowledge of approximately where that piece is located on the larger chromosome). Changes in technology and in particular improvements to the processing power of computers, means that genomes can now be 'shotgun sequenced' in one go (there are caveats to this approach though when compared to the traditional approach).
Improvements in DNA sequencing technology has meant that the cost of sequencing a new genome sequence has steadily fallen (in terms of cost per base pair) and newer technology has also meant that genomes can be sequenced far more quickly. When research agencies decide what new genomes to sequence, the emphasis has been on species which have either a relevance to human health (e.g. pathogenic bacteria or vectors of disease such as mosquitos) or species which have commercial importance (e.g. livestock and crop plants). Secondary emphasis is placed on species whose genomes will help answer important questions in molecular evolution (e.g. the common chimpanzee).
In the future, it is likely that it will become even cheaper and quicker to sequence a genome. This will allow for complete genome sequences to be determined from many different individuals of the same species. For humans, this will allow us to better understand aspects of human genetic diversity.
Example genome projects
Many organisms have genome projects that have either been completed or will be completed shortly, including:
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Genome_project". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.