What is a genome assembly?
The haploid human genome consists of 22 autosomal chromosomes and the Y and the X chromosomes. Each of the chromosomes represents a single DNA molecule, a sequence of millions of nucleotide bases. These molecules are linear, so one might expect that we should represent each chromosome by a single, continuous sequence.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for two main reasons: 1) because of the nature of genomic DNA and the limitations of our sequencing methods, some parts of the genome remain unsequenced, and 2) emerging evidence suggests that some regions of the genome vary so much between individual people that they cannot be represented as a single sequence.
In response to this, modern genomic data sets present a model of the genome known as a genome assembly. This post will introduce the basic concepts of how we produce such assemblies as well as some basic vocabulary.