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Assembly and annotation of an Ashkenazi human reference genome



Justin M. Zook, Justin M. Wagner, Nathanael D. Olson, Steven L. Salzberg, Alaina Shumate, Aleksey V. Zimin, Daniela Puiu, Mihaela Pertea, Marc Salit


Thousands of experiments and studies use the human reference genome as a resource each year. This single reference genome, GRCh38, is a mosaic created from a small number of individuals, representing a very small sample of the human population. There is a need for reference genomes from multiple human populations to avoid potential biases. Here, we describe the assembly and annotation of the genome of an Ashkenazi individual and the creation of a new, population-specific human reference genome. This genome is more contiguous and more complete than GRCh38, the latest version of the human reference genome, and is annotated with highly similar gene content. The Ashkenazi reference genome, Ash1, contains 2,973,118,650 nucleotides as compared to 2,937,639,212 in GRCh38. Annotation identified 20,157 protein-coding genes, of which 19,563 are > 99% identical to their counterparts on GRCh38. Most of the remaining genes have small differences. Forty of the protein-coding genes in GRCh38 are missing from Ash1; however, all of these genes are members of multi-gene families for which Ash1 contains other copies. Eleven genes appear on different chromosomes from their homologs in GRCh38. Alignment of DNA sequences from an unrelated Ashkenazi individual to Ash1 identified ~ 1 million fewer homozygous SNPs than alignment of those same sequences to the more-distant GRCh38 genome, illustrating one of the benefits of population-specific reference genomes. The Ash1 genome is presented as a reference for any genetic studies involving Ashkenazi Jewish individuals.
Genome Biology


reference genome, genomics, variant calling


Zook, J. , Wagner, J. , Olson, N. , Salzberg, S. , Shumate, A. , Zimin, A. , Puiu, D. , Pertea, M. and Salit, M. (2020), Assembly and annotation of an Ashkenazi human reference genome, Genome Biology, [online], (Accessed February 28, 2024)
Created June 2, 2020, Updated June 15, 2020