What is Whole Genome Sequencing?
What is Whole Genome Sequencing?
The genome or genetic material of an organism (bacteria, viruses, potatoes, humans) consists of DNA. Every organism has a unique DNA sequence made up of bases. If you know the sequence of bases in an organism, you've identified its unique DNA fingerprint or pattern. Determining the order of bases is called sequencing. Whole genome sequencing is a laboratory procedure that determines the sequence of bases in an organism's genome in one process.
How does whole genome sequencing work?
Scientists perform whole-genome sequencing through four main steps:
1. DNA shearing: Scientists first use molecular scissors to cut DNA, which consists of millions of bases (A, C, T, and G), into fragments small enough for a sequencer to read.
2. DNA barcoding: Scientists add small fragments of DNA tags, or barcodes, to identify which piece of sheared DNA belongs to which bacterium. This is similar to how barcodes identify products in grocery stores.
3. Whole Genome Sequencing: Combining barcoded DNA from multiple bacteria into a Whole Genome Sequencer. The sequencer identifies the A, C, T, and G, or bases, that make up each bacterial sequence. Sequencers use barcodes to keep track of which bases belong to which bacteria.
4. Data analysis: Scientists use computer analysis tools to compare bacterial sequences and identify differences. The number of differences can tell scientists how closely the bacteria are related and how likely they are to be part of the same outbreak.
How will whole-genome sequencing change disease detection?
Whole-genome sequencing provides more detailed and precise data to identify outbreaks than pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), the current standard technique used by PulseNet. Not only are we now able to compare bacterial genomes using the 15-30 bands that appear in PFGE patterns, we now have millions of bases to compare. It's like comparing all the words (WGS) in a book, not just the number of chapters (PFGE), to see if the books are the same or different. Using whole-genome sequencing, we found that some bacteria that looked different using PFGE actually came from the same source. This helps resolve some outbreaks more quickly.
Whole-genome sequencing is a fast and affordable way to obtain high-level information about bacteria in a single test. Currently, the process of fully characterizing bacteria requires four or more separate tests, including PFGE, by two or more scientists. WGS will greatly improve the efficiency of monitoring by PulseNet.
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