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New generation sequencers as a tool for genotyping of highly polymorphic multilocus MHC system


J. Radwan, Fax: +48 12 664 69 12; E-mail:


Accurate genotyping of complex systems, such as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) often requires simultaneous analysis of multiple co-amplifying loci. Here we explore the utility of the massively parallel 454 sequencing method as a universal tool for genotyping complex MHC systems in nonmodel vertebrates. The power of this approach stems from the use of tagged polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers to identify individual amplicons which can be simultaneously sequenced to the arbitrarily chosen coverage. However, the error-prone sequencing technology poses considerable challenges as it may be difficult to discriminate between sequencing errors and true rare alleles; due to complex nature of artefacts and errors, efficient quality control is required. Nevertheless, our study demonstrates the parallel 454 sequencing can be an efficient genotyping platform for MHC and provides an alternative to classical genotyping methods. We introduced procedures to identify the threshold that can be used to reduce number of genotyping errors by eliminating most of artefactual alleles (AA) representing PCR or sequencing errors. Our procedures are based on two expectations: first, that AA should be relatively rare, both overall and on per-individual basis, and second, that most AA result from errors introduced to sequences of true alleles. In our data set, alleles with an average per-individual frequency below 3% most likely represented artefacts. This threshold will vary in other applications according to the complexity of the genotyped system. We strongly suggest direct assessment of genotyping error in every experiment by running a fraction of duplicates: individuals amplified in independent PCRs.