Targeted gene panels vs. whole exome sequencing


One frequent question we hear on Genohub is, ‘should I make a custom panel for this gene set, or not bother and do whole exome sequencing?’. While whole genome sequencing approaches can capture all possible mutations, whole exome or targeted gene panel sequencing are cost-effective approaches for capturing phenotype altering mutations. We go into the advantages of WGS vs. WES in an earlier blog post. A remaining question however is, among targeting approaches, which is best. We attempt to address this here:

Advantages of targeting all exons – whole exome sequencing (WES)

If you’re study is discovery based, in other words you don’t know what genes you need to target, WES is the obvious choice.

  • Better for discovery based applications where you’re not sure what genes you should be targeting
  • Exome panels are commercially available, they don’t need to be customized or designed.
  • Exome sequencing services are fairly standard, costs range between $550-800 for 100-150x mean on target coverage.

Advantages of targeted gene panels (amplicon-seq or targeted hybridization methods)

Targeted gene panels are ideal for analyzing specific mutations or genes that have suspected associations with disease.

  • Focusing on individual genes or gene regions allows you to sequence at a much higher depth than exome-seq, e.g. 2,000-10,000x as opposed to 200x which is typical with exome-seq.
  • High depth sequencing enables the identification of rare variants
  • Can be customized for different samples types, e.g. FFPE, cf/ctDNA, degraded samples.
  • Lower input amounts can be used with targeted gene panels (1 ng vs. 100 ng with whole exome sequencing).
  • Gene panels can be customized to only include genomic regions of interest. Why sequence everything when you don’t need that extra information?
  • Panels can be easily designed for non-human species. Designing a non-human exome is much more laborious.
  • Gene panel workflows are a lot simpler and time to results is often as little as 1-2 days.
  • You can process thousands of samples on a single sequencing run. Targeted gene panels can be run at a higher throughput and are often more cost-effective than whole exome sequencing.

By focusing on genes likely to be involved with disease, you can reduce expense and focus sequencing resources on your targeted region. However, if you only have a few samples that you need to sequence at a low depth of coverage, consider whether it’s worth designing a panel vs. performing whole exome sequencing using an existing commercial panel.

If you’re interested in designing a custom gene panel or already have an existing panel you’d like to sequence, submit a request describing your project or view several of the existing commercially available panels here.

Guides to improve your next generation sequencing project

read length, output and instrument recommendations for next generation sequencing

If you’re new to next generation sequencing or if you’re simply looking for tips to improve your next project, we recommend you take some time to look at the guides available on Genohub. As researchers order sequencing services it’s completely normal for there to be numerous questions related to nucleic acid extraction, library prep and best practices for loading a sequencing instrument. Over the years, we’ve curated these questions and published guides to help those embarking on their next NGS project. Topics covered include: library prep applications, batch effects, optimal cluster densities, read lengths and instrument output.

Next generation sequencing is a tool that can be applied to answer any number of questions related to the genome, transcriptome or epigenome. Regardless of the organism being sequenced or the library method used to prepare nucleic acid from that organism, the fundamentals of how a sequencing platform works, is similar across all samples. There are currently four main sequencing platforms that researchers regularly use. These include Illumina, Ion, PacBio and Oxford Nanopore. The guides below tend to be Illumina focused because that’s the platform most people are currently using today. Despite that, we review the read throughput of each available instrument and discuss hybrid methodologies where short and long reads are combined from two different instruments to improve assemblies.

Guides for sequencing

  1. Designing a sequencing project
  2. Recommended coverage by library preparation application
  3. Comparison of instrument read lengths and read outputs

Guides for preparing your samples

  1. Best practices for shipping tissue and nucleic acid 
  2. Library preparation kits and tips

Guides by application

  1. Transcriptome and mRNA-Seq
  2. Genome sequencing and re-sequencing
  3. Exome
  4. Metagenomics 
  5. Small RNA (microRNA)
  6. WGS vs. WES

Tips and considerations for commonly used sequencing instruments

  1. HiSeq X
  2. HiSeq 3000/4000
  3. Nextseq and low diversity

These are evolving guides, meaning our goal is to continuously improve them. If you have any feedback or would like to contribute please send us a message. We hope these guides will be helpful in designing your next NGS run. If you have technical questions related to an upcoming NGS project, feel free to submit them on our consultation page.


6 Methods to Fragment Your DNA / RNA for Next-Gen Sequencing

The preparation of a high quality sequencing library plays an important role in next-generation sequencing (NGS). The first main step in preparing nucleic acid for NGS is fragmentation. In the next series of blog posts we will present important challenges and things to consider as you isolate nucleic acid samples and prepare your own libraries.

Next Generation Sequencing, will give you a plethora of reads, but they will be short. Illumina and Ion read lengths are currently under 600 bases. Roche 454 outputs reads at less than 1kb and PacBio less than 9kb in length. This makes sizing your input DNA or RNA important prior to library construction. There are three main ways to shorten your long nucleic acid material into something compatible for next-gen sequencing: 1) Physical, 2) Enzymatic and 3) Chemical shearing.

Physical Fragmentation

1) Acoustic shearing

2) Sonication

3) Hydrodynamic shear

Acoustic shearing and sonication are the main physical methods used to shear DNA. The Covaris® instrument (Woburn, MA) is an acoustic device for breaking DNA into 100-5kb bp. Covaris also manufactures tubes (gTubes) which will process samples in the 6-20 kb for Mate-Pair libraries. The Bioruptor® (Denville, NJ) is a sonication device utilized for shearing chromatin, DNA and disrupting tissues. Small volumes of DNA can be sheared to 150-1kb in length. Hydroshear from Digilab (Marlborough, MA) utilizes hydrodynamic forces to shear DNA.  Nebulizers (Life Tech, Grand Island, NY) can also be used to atomize liquid using compressed air, shearing DNA into 100-3kb fragments in seconds. While nebulization is low cost and doesn’t require the purchase of an instrument, it is not recommended if you have limited starting material. You can lose up to 30% of your DNA with a nebulizer. The other sonication and acoustic shearing devices described above are better designed for smaller volumes and retain the entire amount of your DNA more efficiently.

Enzymatic Methods

4) DNase I or other restriction endonuclease, non-specific nuclease

5) Transposase

Enzymatic methods to shear DNA into small pieces include DNAse I, a combination of maltose binding protein (MBP)-T7 Endo I and a non-specific nuclease Vibrio vulnificus (Vvn), NEB’s (Ipswich, MA) Fragmentase and Nextera tagmentation technology (Illumina, San Diego, CA). The combination of non-specific nuclease and T7 Endo synergistically work to produce non-specific nicks and counter nicks, generating fragments that disassociate 8 nucleotides or less from the nick site. Tagmentation uses a transposase to simultaneously fragment and insert adapters onto dsDNA. Generally enzymatic fragmentation has shown to be consistent, but worse when compared to physical shear methods when it comes to bias and detecting insertions and deletions (indels) (Knierim et al., 2011). Depending on your specific application, de novo genome sequencing vs. small genome re-sequencing, biases associated with enzymatic fragmentation may not be as important.

RNAse III is an endonuclease that cleaves RNA into small fragments with 5’phosphate and 3’hydroxyl groups. While these end groups are needed for RNA ligation, making the assay convenient, RNAse III cleavage does have sequence preference which makes the cleavage biased. Heat / chemical methods described below, while they leave 3’phosphate and 5’hydroxyl ends, show less sequence bias and are generally preferred methods in library preparation.

Chemical Fragmentation    

6) Heat and divalent metal cation

Chemical shear is typically reserved for the breakup of long RNA fragments. This is typically performed through the heat digestion of RNA with a divalent metal cation (magnesium or zinc). The length of your RNA (115 bp – 350 nt) can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the time of incubation.

The size of your DNA or RNA insert is a key factor for library construction and sequencing. You’ll need to choose an instrument and read length that is compatible with your insert length. You can choose this by entering project parameters in the Shop by Project page and filtering according to read length (estimated insert length). If you’re not sure, we can help. Send us a request through our consultation form .


Systematic Comparison of Three Methods for Fragmentation of Long-Range PCR Products for Next Generation Sequencing

Ellen Knierim, Barbara Lucke, Jana Marie Schwarz, Markus Schuelke, Dominik Seelow



World’s Leading NGS Matching Engine Just Got Better

Every week thousands of researchers from around the world rely on Genohub’s free next-generation sequencing matching engine to explore sequencing solutions that match their project requirements. This typically involves finding out the right amount of capacity (e.g. number of sequencing lanes) on different sequencing platforms to meet a coverage or read count requirement for various applications such as DNA-Seq, RNA-Seq, Exome, Amplicon-Seq, etc.

We are very excited to release a brand new version of our NGS matching engine, that packs a lot of major improvements. Here are a few highlights:

Redesigned Interface

We have completely redesigned the interface to make it even faster and easier to find matching services. It’s now also easier to quickly send a request to get confirmed quotes or to get help from our scientists


Detailed Quote View

You can now view detailed quotes right from the results. This makes it a lot easier to evaluate different options based on additional service details.


Instrument and Library Preparation Kit Filters

You can now filter the results by instrument or library preparation kit. This helps with situations where for whatever reason (e.g. consistency with a previous sequencing run) you’d like to stick with a particular sequencing instrument.


Expanded Range of Services and Lower Prices

We’ve been working very hard with our network of partnering service providers to expand the range of sequencing services. Here are just a few examples:

  • New instruments such as 10X Genomics, HiSeq X, HiSeq 3000/4000, NextSeq 500
  • New applications such as Ribo-Seq, targeted amplicon, mtDNA, HLA and TCR-repertoire sequencing
  • Gene panels such as Qiagen’s amplicon panels, Agilent and Nimblegen’s Target Hybrid capture panels and IDT’s xGEN Lockdown panels.

Whether you are just exploring options for a future project, looking to get a few quotes for a grant application, or have an immediate sequencing project with samples ready to ship, there’s no better way to find and order the right NGS services. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback on what you like, and more importantly what else you’d like to see improved. Leave a comment here or email us at

To use the service visit

Considerations for Sequencing microRNA

microRNA sequencing

We’ve put together a new small RNA (microRNA) sequencing guide describing considerations all new users should make before undertaking a small RNA sequencing project. One of the first considerations is determining the number of reads you need. This usually depends on whether you’re interested in differential small RNA expression or if you’re trying to discover new microRNAs. Once you know the number of reads you need per sample, consider the following factors before and after library preparation:

  1. Should you start with total RNA or isolated small RNA?
  2. How much material should you start with?
  3. What’s the minimum quality of total RNA acceptable for microRNA library preparation and sequencing?
  4. How will small RNA ligation bias affect my results?
  5. How can I minimize adapter dimers to improve read mapping and general usability of my sequencing reads?
  6. How many samples can I multiplex or pool together in a single sequencing lane?
  7. What sequencing read length should I choose for microRNA or small RNA sequencing studies?

The guide also includes recommendations for getting accurate per sample pricing and turnaround times.

Small RNAs play a big role in regulating the translation of target RNAs through RNA to RNA interactions and have been shown to offer potential as biomarkers in diagnostic applications. Sequencing promises to be a useful tool in unraveling the roles of these short non-coding RNAs. We look forward to working with you on your next microRNA project.



New Short, Long and High Throughput Sequencing Reads in 2016


Nanopore sequencing

Nanopore sequencing

An exciting wave of newly released DNA sequencing instruments and technology will soon be available to researchers. From DNA sequencers the size of a cell phone to platforms that turn short reads into long-range information, these new sequencing technologies will be available on Genohub as services that can be ordered. Below is a summary of the technology you can expect in Q1 of 2016:

10X Genomics GemCode Platform

The GemCode platform from 10X Genomics partitions long DNA fragments up to 100 kb with a pool of ~750K molecular barcodes, indexing the genome during library construction. Barcoded DNA fragments are made such that all fragments share the same barcode. After several cycling and pooling steps, >100K barcode containing partitions are created. GemCode software then maps short Illumina read pairs back to the original long DNA molecules using the barcodes added during library preparation. With long range information, haplotype phasing and improved structural variant detection are possible. Gene fusions, deletions and duplications can be detected from exome data.

Ion Torrent S5, S5 XL

The S5 system was developed by Ion to focus on the clinical amplicon-seq market. While the wait for delivery of Proton PII chips continues, Ion delivered a machine with chip configurations very much similar to past PGM and Proton chips. 520/530 chips offer 200-400 bp runs with 80M reads and 2-4 hour run times. Using Ion’s fixed amplicon panels, data analysis can be completed within 5 hours. The Ion chef is required to reduce hands on library prep time, otherwise libraries and chip loading needs to be performed manually. Ion looks to have positioned their platform toward clinical applications. With stiff competition from Illumina and their inability to deliver similar read lengths and throughput, this is a smart decision by Ion. Focusing their platform on a particular application likely means future development (longer and higher throughput reads) has been paused indefinitely.

Pacific Biosciences Sequel System

Announced in September 2015, the Sequel System uses the same Single Molecule, Real Time (SMRT) technology as the RSII,   but boasts several tech advancements. At around one third the cost of a RSII, the Sequel offers 7x more reads with 1M zero –mode waveguides (ZMWs) per SMRT cell versus the previous standard of 150K. The application of Iso-Seq or full length transcript sequencing is especially promising as 1M reads crosses into the threshold where discovery and quantitation of transcripts becomes interesting. By providing full length transcript isoforms, it’s no longer necessary to reconstruct transcripts or infer isoforms based on short read information. Of course, the Sequel is ideal for generating whole genome de novo assemblies. We’l follow how the Oxford Nanopore’s ONT MinIon competes with the Sequel system in 2016.

Oxford Nanopore’s (ONT) MinIon

In 2014, Oxford Nanopore started it’s MinIon Access Program (MAP) delivering over 1,000 MinIons to users who wanted to test the technology. These users have gone on to publish whole E. Coli and Yeast genome assemblies. Accuracy of the device is up to 85% per raw base and there are difficulties in dealing with high G+C content sequences. There remains a lot of work left to improve the technology before widespread adoption. The workflow is simple and uses typical library construction steps of end-repair and ligation. Once the sample is added to the flow cell, users can generate long reads >100 kb and can analyze data in real time. Median reads are currently in the 1-2 kb length. Combined alongside with MiSeq reads, publications have shown MinIon output can enhance contiguity of de novo assembly. Lower error rates generated by Two Direction reads produced with recent updated MinIon chemistry does give cause for optimism that greatly reduced error rates can be achieved in the near future. This along with a low unit cost and the ability to deploy the USB sized device in the field make this a very exciting technology.

Illumina HiSeq X

While HiSeq X services have been available on Genohub for over a year, Illumina’s announcement of its expansion to non-human whole genomes was well received. However there are still several unanswered questions. Illumina states,

The updated rights of use will allow for market expansion and population-scale sequencing of non-human species in a variety of markets, including plants and livestock in agricultural research and model organisms in pharmaceutical research. Previously, it has been cost prohibitive to sequence non-human genomes at high coverage.

You can now sequence mouse, rat and other relatively large sized genomes economically on the HiSeq X. This makes the most sense for high coverage applications, e.g. 30x or above. While smaller sized and medium sized genomes can be sequenced on a HiSeq X, the low level of barcoding and high coverage you’d obtain makes these applications less attractive. According to Illumina, as of 12/20/2015, metagenomic whole genome sequencing was not a compatible application on the HiSeq X. The instrument is still restricted to WGS only. RNA-Seq, Exome-seq and ChIP-Seq applications will have to wait. Perhaps by the time the HiSeq X One is released access will be opened to these non-WGS applications.

While these new instruments make their way onto Genohub’s Shop by Project page, you can make inquiries and even order services by placing a request on our consultation page.

Key Considerations for Whole Exome Sequencing

exome sequencing and library preparation

Exome, UTR, non-coding regions, CDS

Whole exome sequencing is a powerful technique for sequencing protein coding genes in the genome (known as the exome). It’s a useful tool for applications where detecting variants is important, including population genetics, association and linkage, and oncology studies.

As the main hub for searching and ordering next generation sequencing services, most researchers about to embark on an exome sequencing project start their search on  It’s our responsibility to make sure the researcher is informed and prepared before placing an order for an exome sequencing service.

Working toward achieving this goal, we’ve established a series of guides for anyone about to start a whole exome sequencing project. We’ve described each of these guides here.

  1. Should I choose Whole Genome Sequencing or Whole Exome Sequencing

This guide describes what you can get with WGS that you won’t with WES and compares pricing on a per sample basis. It also provides an overview of sequence coverage, coverage uniformity, off-target effects and bias due to PCR amplification.

  1. How to choose a Exome Sequencing Kit for capture and sequencing

This guide breaks down each commercial exome capture kit, comparing Agilent SureSelect, Nimblegen SeqCap and Illumina Nextera Rapid Capture. Numbers of probes used for capture, DNA input required, adapter addition strategy, probe length and design, hybridization time and cost per capture are all compared. This comparison is followed by a description of each kit’s protocol.

  1. How to calculate the number of sequencing reads needed for exome sequencing

In the same guide that compares library preparation kits (above), we go through an example on how to determine the amount of sequencing and read length required for your exome study. This is especially important when you start comparing the cost for exome sequencing services (see the next guide).

  1. How to choose an exome sequencing and library preparation service

Are you looking for 100x sequencing coverage, what many in the industry call standard exome sequencing or 200x coverage, considered ‘high depth’?  Or are you interested in a CLIA grade, clinical whole exome sequencing service? This exome guide breaks each down into searches that can be performed on Genohub. The search buttons allow for real time comparison of available exome services, their prices, turnaround times and kits being used. Once you’ve identified a service that looks like a good match, you can send questions to the provider or immediately order the exome-seq service.

  1. Find a service provider to perform exome-seq data analysis only

Do you already have an exome-seq dataset? Do you need a bioinformatician to perform variant calling or SNP ID? Are you interested in studying somatic or germline mutations? Use this guide to identify providers who have experienced bioinformaticians on staff that regularly perform this type of data analysis service. Simply click on a contact button to immediately send a message or question to a provider. If you’re looking for a quote, they will respond within the same or next business day.

If you still need help, feel free to take advantage of Genohub’s complimentary consultation services. We’re happy to help make recommendations for your whole exome sequencing project.