DNA Sequencing Record: ‘Ashes’ Trophy for England
2nd November 2018 - Last modified 12th May 2020 - 0 comments
Written by William van Grunsven, PhD.
Earlier this week the BBC reported that researchers from the University of Nottingham broke the record for the longest ‘read’ in DNA sequencing. Dubbed the Ashes of DNA sequencing, the record was previously held by an Australian group, who will undoubtedly try to push the boundary of sequencing technology even further.
A good read
The Nottingham team, led by Dr Matt Loose, managed to shatter the previous record of 1.2 million base pairs by reporting a 2.3 million base pair sequencing read. So what exactly do they mean by a read?
In DNA sequencing, scientists are often interested in regions longer than a million base pairs. However, for the actual analysis, a common strategy is to chop up the DNA into smaller pieces first. A sequencer can then determine the genetic code of the small fragments – and use these short reads to determine the sequence of the original longer strand of DNA.
As sequencing technology has evolved, it has become possible to look at longer and longer fragments of DNA without the resulting data suffering from high error rates. The challenge of pushing the limits of read length is what spurred the Ashes-style competition – a reference to the annual series of cricket matches between England and Australia.
Progress in analysing ever longer fragments of DNA is part of wider development that has seen enormous progress in every aspect of sequencing: accuracy, cost, ease of use, and of course speed. Only 15 years ago the human genome project finished. This quest to map our own genome took over a decade to complete but nowadays, this would be possible in a fraction of the time (and at a fraction of the cost).
The use of longer reads can help researchers to simplify their sequencing protocols, while also potentially benefitting the analysis of certain regions of the genome, such as those affected by cancer. In these regions, the DNA is often more disordered than usual, making it harder to determine the full sequence from fragments.
Although the near-doubling of the read length by the Nottingham team will probably have thrown the other ‘competitors’ a googly, there is no doubt that even longer reads are possible in the future. Who knows where the NGS Ashes trophy (yes, there really is one!) will go next.
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