What is Low-Pass Whole Genome Sequencing?
Updated on March 8, 2024
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What is Low-Pass Whole Genome Sequencing?

Low-Pass Whole Genome Sequencing (LP-WGS), also called shallow whole genome sequencing, is a DNA sequencing method that offers a balance of cost-effectiveness and accuracy when studying genetic variation.

Unlike traditional Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), which analyzes the genome at a high depth (typically 30x-50x coverage), LP-WGS sequences each part of the genome only a few times (0.1x-5x coverage).

How Does LP-WGS Achieve Accuracy with Lower Coverage?

Despite the lower coverage, LP-WGS can still reliably detect common genetic variations like single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), insertions, deletions, and structural variations.

LP-WGS does this through statistical imputation, where computers use patterns found in large reference databases (like the 1000 Genomes Project) to predict the genotypes between the parts of the genome that were directly sequenced.

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Cost-Saving Advantages of LP-WGS

The primary advantage of LP-WGS is its significant cost reduction compared to traditional high-pass WGS. Here’s why:

  • Lower Sequencing Costs – Sequencing fewer times per genome drastically reduces the overall cost
  • High Throughput – LP-WGS is ideal for large-scale studies analyzing many samples simultaneously, lowering per-sample costs

Cost Comparison

To illustrate the cost differences, consider these figures:

  • High-pass WGS – As of the latest data, the cost to generate a high-quality ‘draft’ whole human genome sequence in mid-2015 was just above $4,000; by late 2015, that figure had fallen below $1,500.
  • Low-pass WGS – For low-pass sequencing, the cost can be significantly lower. If sequencing a human genome to 30x coverage costs $1,000, then sequencing a human sample to 0.4x coverage costs around $13. Another source mentions the current cost of 0.4× WGS per sample, including library preparation, is approximately $30 ($12 for sequencing and $18 for library preparation per sample).

Maintaining Accuracy

LP-WGS achieves remarkable accuracy while being cost-effective. Studies have shown up to 99% accuracy in identifying genetic variations. This makes it a powerful tool for various purposes:

Applications of LP-WGS

  • Large-Scale Research – LP-WGS is perfect for studies where many samples need to be analyzed, like Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS), which look for links between common gene variations and traits
  • Clinical Settings – In some cases, LP-WGS can be combined with targeted deep sequencing to focus on specific areas of interest for clinical diagnosis
  • Copy Number Variation (CNV) Detection – LP-WGS provides a powerful and cost-effective method for genome-wide CNV analysis
  • Limited DNA Samples – LP-WGS requires less DNA than traditional WGS, making it suitable for research situations with limited sample amounts

Cost vs. Accuracy Trade-Offs

While LP-WGS offers excellent accuracy and cost-savings, it’s important to understand the trade-offs compared to high-pass WGS:

  • Rare Variant Detection – High-pass WGS remains the gold standard for detecting extremely rare genetic variations
  • Specific Applications – Some research or clinical needs may still necessitate the greater depth of traditional WGS

Low-Pass Whole Genome Sequencing is a valuable tool in genomics. Its cost-effectiveness, accuracy, and suitability for large-scale studies make it an attractive option for researchers and clinicians alike.

As sequencing technologies continue to advance, LP-WGS is likely to play an even more significant role in understanding genetic variation and its impact on health and disease.

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Updated on March 8, 2024
Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad
Content Contributor
Angela is a full-time digital content manager and editor for Know Your DNA. She also contributes freelance articles to several local and international websites when she has the time. She's always been a voracious believer in finding the truth and ensuring the science is sound.