One of the central applications of the human reference genome has been to serve as a baseline for comparison in nearly all human genomic studies. Unfortunately, many difficult regions of the reference genome have remained unresolved for decades and are affected by collapsed duplications, missing sequences, and other issues. Relative to the current human reference genome, GRCh38, the Telomere-to-Telomere CHM13 (T2T-CHM13) genome closes all remaining gaps, adds nearly 200 million base pairs (Mbp) of sequence, corrects thousands of structural errors, and unlocks the most complex regions of the human genome for scientific inquiry.
We demonstrate how the T2T-CHM13 reference genome universally improves read mapping and variant identification in a globally diverse cohort. This cohort includes all 3202 samples from the expanded 1000 Genomes Project (1KGP), sequenced with short reads, as well as 17 globally diverse samples sequenced with long reads. By applying state-of-the-art methods for calling single-nucleotide variants (SNVs) and structural variants (SVs), we document the strengths and limitations of T2T-CHM13 relative to its predecessors and highlight its promise for revealing new biological insights within technically challenging regions of the genome.
Across the 1KGP samples, we found more than 1 million additional high-quality variants genome-wide using T2T-CHM13 than with GRCh38. Within previously unresolved regions of the genome, we identified hundreds of thousands of variants per sample—a promising opportunity for evolutionary and biomedical discovery. T2T-CHM13 improves the Mendelian concordance rate among trios and eliminates tens of thousands of spurious SNVs per sample, including a reduction of false positives in 269 challenging, medically relevant genes by up to a factor of 12. These corrections are in large part due to improvements to 70 protein-coding genes in >9 Mbp of inaccurate sequence caused by falsely collapsed or duplicated regions in GRCh38. Using the T2T-CHM13 genome also yields a more comprehensive view of SVs genome-wide, with a greatly improved balance of insertions and deletions. Finally, by providing numerous resources for T2T-CHM13 (including 1KGP genotypes, accessibility masks, and prominent annotation databases), our work will facilitate the transition to T2T-CHM13 from the current reference genome.
The vast improvements in variant discovery across samples of diverse ancestries position T2T-CHM13 to succeed as the next prevailing reference for human genetics. T2T-CHM13 thus offers a model for the construction and study of high-quality reference genomes from globally diverse individuals, such as is now being pursued through collaboration with the Human Pangenome Reference Consortium. As a foundation, our work underscores the benefits of an accurate and complete reference genome for revealing diversity across human populations.