The day I fell in love with Varbank

De novo. Three months ago, I performed a trio exome de novo analysis in a patient-parent trio. From my iPad, in a hotel room in Paris. When I got home a few days later, I was excited to tell my students that the analysis worked. They looked at me slightly confused: “What’s the big deal? We had the analysis complete already a week or so ago.” Last year at this time, I was proud that our lab had established a fully functional de novo analysis pipeline. Suddenly, it’s not a big deal anymore. What happened? Let me tell you about Varbank. Continue reading

Axiomatic – identifying a novel epilepsy gene that was hidden right before your eyes

The Hague, winter of 1997. Last week challenged my most basic beliefs, which reminded me of “Axiomatic”, a collection of science fiction short stories by Greg Egan. While on holiday in the Netherlands in 1997, I had bought this book in the Den Haag Centraal bookstore, and subsequently lost it or gave it away. I only remembered the title three weeks ago, and ordered it online. The book arrived at the same time that news from Antwerp twisted my brain. In the signature story of “Axiomatic” with the same title, a man acquires a nano-robot based implant that allows him to change his innermost convictions (I told you that it’s science fiction, right?). He basically wants to have the courage to kill the man who murdered his wife. After carrying out his revenge and after the effect of the axiomatic implant has worn off, he starts craving for more, since he is missing the certainty in his life that the implant had given him. I needed to adjust my deeply held expectation on how to find de novo mutations after Tania, a PhD student in the Antwerp lab, had pulled out a de novo mutation in one of our trios that Denovogear had missed. This mutation turned out to be another hit in a gene that we had seen before. Continue reading

How to detect de novo mutations in exome data

Taking things apart. Looking for de novo variants using trio exome sequencing is a powerful technique to identify disease-related genes. After having introduced samtools during the last post, this will be post 2/3 in a series on how to perform an analysis of exome data for de novo variants. This time, I would like to take apart the methods that take us from Gigabyte BAM files to small tables with likely variants. So buckle up. Continue reading