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The Changing Face of Genome Assemblies: Guidance on Achieving High-quality Reference Genomes

Jun 28, 2021


The quality of genome assemblies has improved rapidly in recent years due to continual advances in sequencing technology, assembly approaches, and quality control. In the field of molecular ecology, this has led to the development of exceptional quality genome assemblies that will be important long-term resources for broader studies into ecological, conservation, evolutionary, and population genomics of naturally occurring species. Moreover, the extent to which a single reference genome represents the diversity within a species varies: pan-genomes will become increasingly important ecological genomics resources, particularly in systems found to have considerable presence-absence variation in their functional content. Here, we highlight advances in technology that have raised the bar for genome assembly and provide guidance on standards to achieve exceptional quality reference genomes. Key recommendations include the following: (a) Genome assemblies should include long-read sequencing except in rare cases where it is effectively impossible to acquire adequately preserved samples needed for high molecular weight DNA standards. (b) At least one scaffolding approach should be included with genome assembly such as Hi-C or optical mapping. (c) Genome assemblies should be carefully evaluated, this may involve utilising short read data for genome polishing, error correction, k-mer analyses, and estimating the percent of reads that map back to an assembly. Finally, a genome assembly is most valuable if all data and methods are made publicly available and the utility of a genome for further studies is verified through examples. While these recommendations are based on current technology, we anticipate that future advances will push the field further and the molecular ecology community should continue to adopt new approaches that attain the highest quality genome assemblies.


Annabel Whibley, Joanna Kelley, and Shawn Narum


Whibley, A., J.L. Kelley, and S.R. Narum. 2021. The changing face of genome assemblies: guidance on achieving high-quality reference genomes. Molecular Ecology Resources 21(3):641-652. Online at



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Journal Article