Tales of drafty genomes: part 2 — when draft genomes took over the world

This is the second post in an infrequent series that looks at draft genomes.

At the time of writing, Google has indexed almost 400,000 pages that include a mention of the phrase draft genome. Prior to the year 2000, there are zero mentions of this phrase in the tech giant’s search index.

The phrase ‘draft genome’ came to prominence with the publication of the ‘working draft’ version of the human genome[1]. But referring to published genomes as anything other than ‘complete’ was still atypical at this time. This can be seen if you search Google Scholar for papers that include in their titles either the phrase draft genome sequence or complete genome sequence. When you look at how these results change over time, an interesting pattern emerges:

Number of papers indexed by Google Scholar that include the phrases 'Complete genome sequence' or 'Draft genome sequence' in their titles.

Around 2000–2003, there were a small number of papers mentioning draft genome sequences. These are nearly all related to the draft sequences of the human or rice genomes. Usage of the phrase (in journal titles) didn’t break double digits until 2011. Draft genomes then became a much more widely used phrase in 2012 and by 2013 they overtook usage of ‘complete genome sequence’

I find this reveals something about the nature of sequencing and genome assembly. It almost feels like we are giving up our ambition to finish genomes (whatever ‘finished’ actually means) and are more willing to settle for something that is clearly incomplete.

A definition of ‘draft’ provided by Merriam-Webster is as follows:

A version of something (such as a document) that you make before you make the final version

In an ideal world, I would hope that all of these draft genomes would also end up being replaced by ‘final versions’. But I’m doubtful that many of these published sequences will be completed any time soon.

  1. See part 1 in this series for more details about the drafty nature of the human genome.  ↩