High-quality and complete gene models are the basis of whole genome analyses. The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) genome was the first genome sequenced on the basis of solely short reads, but the genome annotation had lacked the support of transcriptomic evidence.
In this study, researchers at the Beijing Institute of Genomics applied RNA-seq to globally improve the genome assembly completeness and to detect novel expressed transcripts in 12 tissues from giant pandas, by using a transcriptome reconstruction strategy that combined reference-based and de novo methods. Several aspects of genome assembly completeness in the transcribed regions were effectively improved by the de novo assembled transcripts, including genome scaffolding, the detection of small-size assembly errors, the extension of scaffold/contig boundaries, and gap closure. Through expression and homology validation, the researchers detected three groups of novel full-length protein-coding genes. A total of 12.62% of the novel protein-coding genes were validated by proteomic data. GO annotation analysis showed that some of the novel protein-coding genes were involved in pigmentation, anatomical structure formation and reproduction, which might be related to the development and evolution of the black-white pelage, pseudo-thumb and delayed embryonic implantation of giant pandas. The updated genome annotation will help further giant panda studies from both structural and functional perspectives.
Diagram of the improvement in genome assembly completeness. (A) Scaffolding improvement; (B) Scaffolding inconsistencies; (C) Nest assembly errors; (D) Boundary extensions; (E) Gap closure.