The Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) conference organized by SMi was held in London on 17 and 18 September and Genome Medicine was there. As the Personalized Medicine Head of Unit at the European Commission, Patrick Kolar, pointed out in his opening remarks, the exponential growth in this field has been facilitated by the drop in the cost of technology, similar to the advances in the 19th century once aluminium production was made possible. We won’t be writing about aluminium, but will instead cover interesting aspects presented in this meeting for those who could not attend.
Wilhelm Ansorge discussed that we are living in the time of “Next-Generation fever”. He explained why in his overview of the latest developments in NGS techniques, such as nanopore sequencing, and the possible applications, such as in medical and personal genomics. Despite the advances made, however, the length of the reads, the accuracy of the data generated and the false positive rate are still challenges to be overcome in this fast-paced field. Another challenge that is being successfully addressed by Michael Quail is sequencing of microbial DNA from human samples, as contamination with host DNA is a problem. For example, in a malaria sample, more than 90% of the DNA is host rather than microbe. Concerning data analysis, Lachlan Coin highlighted the importance of creating a more complete reference genome and of better understanding variation in human populations.
An important point was raised first by Richard Bax and then reiterated by several other speakers: microbial genome sequencing has so far promised much, but yielded little in antibiotic research. However, NGS might be helpful in improving diagnosis and, thus, directing more precise antibiotherapy. Matt Upton, who works on NGS-based novel peptide antibiotic research underlined how NGS revolutionized natural product screening by eliminating reverse genetic approaches.
Lori Snyder illustrated in her talk how dynamic genomes can be, and how this can make NGS data interpretation difficult. A thought-provoking talk by Elia Stupka had the main take-home message that multi-omics profiling and data integration are very important in the current era. And last but not least, Jian Han showed how using NGS to analyze the T and B cell repertoires can aid the search for new immune cell-based biomarkers or help assess responses to a vaccine.
So what are the key issues for the future of NGS? A panel discussion raised concerns such as data storage, the quality of annotation in non-human genomes and the increasing need for bioinformatics literacy in researchers using NGS.
This was a very interesting and thought-provoking meeting and we look forward to future directions in these topics.