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.

AGBT 2015 – Summary of Day 1

AGBT 2015

Highlights of Day 1 at AGBT

‘Welcome to paradise’, first words by Rick Wilson kicking off the annual Advances in Genome Biology and Technology (AGBT) meeting.  The plenary session began with David Goldstein from Columbia University presenting, “Toward Precision Medicine in Neurological Disease”.  David’s talk began with a discussion of clinical sequencing for neurological diseases, specifically large scale gene discoveries in epileptic encephalopathies. In epilepsy, 12% of patients are ‘genetically explained’ by a casual de novo mutation, which allows for the application of precision medicine. He discussed how a K+ channel plays a key role in at least two different epilepsies and how Quinidine which has never been used for epilepsy, was being used as a targeted treatment. He cautioned that in the literature there are too may correlation studies that don’t really amount to much and as we use genetics to target diseases, it’s critical to perform proper genetics driven precision medicine and not put patients on wrong treatment plans. To better characterize the effects of mutations, he emphasized the need for solid model systems. He also mentioned that he believes truly complex diseases can be tackled with enough patients, numbers matter. To illustrate his point, he described the sequencing of over 3,000 ALS patients to get a clear picture of what genes/proteins have therapeutic importance. At the end of his talk he was asked the old whole genome sequencing (WGS) vs. whole exome sequencing (WES) question and replied that WES was sufficient, as WGS added little due to lack of interpretability. This touched off some debate in the audience and Twitter with regards to Exome-seq and WGS. Highlighted are the advantages of each approach here:

The second talk in the plenary session was by Richard Lifton, from Yale and it was titled, “Genes, Genomes and the Future of Medicine”. Richard cautioned the audience, describing the rush to sequence whole genomes as more industry driven than good science, essentially reiterating the point that WGS is hard to interpret. This began a side discussion on Twitter about those who agree and disagree with this sentiment. Most notably, Gholson Lyon referenced two recent papers that demonstrated new ways to make processing of WGS data easier: and that the accuracy of INDEL detection was greater in WGS compared to WES, even in targeted regions. On the cost front, WGS at 35x coverage currently costs $1,750: or $3,500 for 70X coverage, while whole exome sequencing costs at 100x coverage are around $1,314:  Richard remarked at the end of his talk that not much had been found in non-coding regions, several in the audience challenged him on this assessment.

The third talk in the plenary session was by Yaniv Erlich titled, “Dissecting the Genetic Architecture of Longevity Using Massive-Scale Crowd Sourced Genealogy”. We’ve had the pleasure to hear Yaniv give several lectures in the past, all have been engaging, this was no different. His talk was on using social media to dissect the genetic architecture of complex traits, specifically whether they work independently (additive) or together (epistatic). Predictions of epistasis suggest an exponential increase with added risk alleles. He used to dissect complex traits in large family trees and validated publicly submitted trees using genetic markers. He encoded birthplace as GPS coordinates using Yahoo Maps and showed migration from the Middle Ages through the early 20th Century. The video he played was amazing, check it out: His take home message was that longevity is an additive trait, which is good for personalized medicine. The Geni data he described is open to the public for use.

The fourth and final talk of the night was by Steven McCarroll titled, “A Common Pre-Malignant State, Detectable by Sequencing Blood DNA”. He started by posing the questions, what happens in the years before a disease becomes apparent; cancer genomes are usually studied when there are enough mutations to drive malignancy, do they happen in a particular order? He examined 12,000 exomes for somatic variants at low allele frequency and uncovered 3,111 mutations. Blood derived schizophrenia clustered in four genes: DNMT3A, TET2, ASXL1 and PPM1D, all disruptive. He postulates that driver mutations give cells an advantage, over several years clonal progeny takes over creating pre-cancerous cells. Therefore clonal hematopoiesis with somatic mutations can be readily detected by DNA sequencing and should become more common as we age. Patients with clonal mutations have a 12 fold higher rate of blood cancer, meaning there is a window for early detection, possibly 3 years. This work was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine: Clonal hematopoiesis and blood-cancer risk inferred from blood DNA sequence.

Today’s sessions were impressive and set expectations high for tomorrow’s talks. McCarroll’s last comment nicely captured this sentiment, setting the tone for the rest of the meeting, “Medicine thinks of health and illness, there is a lot in between that is ascertainable via genome sequencing”. 

Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) vs. Whole Exome Sequencing (WES)

Gene, exon, intron, sequencing


“Should I choose whole genome sequencing (WGS) or whole exome sequencing (WES) for my project?” is such a frequently posed question during consultation on Genohub, we thought it would be useful to address it here. With unlimited resources and time, WGS is a clear winner as it allows you to interrogate single-nucleotide variants (SNVs), indels, structural variants (SVs) and copy number variants (CNVs) in both the ~1% part of the genome that encodes protein sequences and the ~99% of remaining non-coding sequences. WES still costs a lot less than WGS, allowing researchers to increase sample number, an important factor for large population studies. WES does however have its limitations. Below we’ve highlighted the advantages of WGS vs. WES and described a real case example of someone ordering these services using Genohub.

Advantages of Whole Genome Sequencing

  1. Allows examination of SNVs, indels, SV and CNVs in coding and non-coding regions of the genome. WES omits regulatory regions such as promoters and enhancers.
  2. WGS has more reliable sequence coverage. Differences in the hybridization efficiency of WES capture probes can result in regions of the genome with little or no coverage.
  3. Coverage uniformity with WGS is superior to WES. Regions of the genome with low sequence complexity restrict the ability to design useful WES capture baits, resulting in off target capture effects.
  4. PCR amplification isn’t required during library preparation reducing the potential of GC bias. WES frequently requires PCR amplification as the bulk input amount needed to capture is generally ~1 ug of DNA.
  5. Sequencing read length isn’t a limitation with WGS. Most target probes for exome-seq are designed to be less than 120 nt long, making it meaningless to sequence using a greater read length.
  6. A lower average read depth is required to achieve the same breath of coverage as WES.
  7. WGS doesn’t suffer from reference bias. WES capture probes tend to preferentially enrich reference alleles at heterozygous sites producing false negative SNV calls.
  8. WGS is more universal. If you’re sequencing a species other than human your choices for exome sequencing are pretty limited.

Advantages of Whole Exome Sequencing

  1. WES is targeted to protein coding regions, so reads represent less than 2% of the genome. This reduces the cost to sequence a targeted region at a high depth and reduces storage and analysis costs.
  2. Reduced costs make it feasible to increase the number of samples to be sequenced, enabling large population based comparisons.

Most functional related disease variants can be detected at a depth of between 100-120x (1) which definitely makes the cost case for exome sequencing. Today on Genohub if you want to perform whole human genome sequencing at a depth of ~35X, the cost is roughly $1700/sample. If you were to request human exome-sequencing services with 100x coverage, using a 62 Mb target region, your cost would be $550/sample. Both of these prices include library preparation. So in terms of producing data WES is still significantly cheaper than WGS. It’s important to note that this doesn’t include your data storage and analysis costs which can also be quite a bit higher with whole genome sequencing.

It’s also important to remember that depth isn’t everything. The better your uniformity of reads and breath of coverage, the higher the likelihood you’ll actually find de novo mutations and call them. And that’s the main goal, if you can’t call SNPs or INDELs with high sensitivity and accuracy, then the most high depth sequencing runs are worthless.

To conclude, whole genome sequencing typically offers better uniformity and balanced allele ratio calls. While greater exome-seq depth can match this, sufficient mapped depth or variant detection in specific regions may never reach the quality of WGS due to probe design failures or protocol shortcomings. These are important considerations when examining tissues like primary tumors where copy number changes and heterogeneity are confounding factors.

If you’re ready to start an exome project, spend a few minutes determining the coverage you’ll need for your experiment. We have an exome-seq guide with examples to help you determine the number of sequencing reads you need to achieve a certain coverage of your exome. If you’re planning to embark on whole genome sequencing, use our NGS Matching Engine which automatically calculates the amount of sequencing capacity on various platforms to meet the coverage requirements for your project.


1) Effect of Next-Generation Exome Sequencing Depth for Discovery of Diagnostic Variants