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Manual curation is crucial to improving the quality of the annotations of a genome. It enables curators to refine automated gene predictions using experimental data and aligned predictions from closely related organisms to more accurately represent the underlying biology. Apollo is a web-based genome annotation editor that allows curators to manually revise and edit the structure and function of predicted genomic elements.
Apollo, built on top of the JBrowse genome browser, offers an ‘Annotator Panel’ that allows users to efficiently navigate the genome and its annotations. Changes are reflected in real-time to all users (similar to Google Docs) and aggregated in a revertible, visual history of structural edits. Apollo allows the export of sequences and metadata associated with each annotated genomic element in FASTA, GFF3, or Chado. A single Apollo server can be scaled to support multiple genome projects and curators. Access to genomes is controlled with fine-grained permissions (e.g. administrator, curator, public). To support integration into larger workflows, we expose the suite of web services that drives user-interface functionality. These web- services have been leveraged to integrate with Docker and the Galaxy platform.
Striving to increase Apollo’s repertoire of visual exploration and exploratory analytics tools, two major undertakings are currently under development. First, the ability to visualize variant data and to annotate their predicted effects, primarily on coding regions. New technology trends and scientific paradigms point to new needs in genomic analytic tools to leverage information about variants that impact human health. Driven by a growing need to identify disease causing variants across diverse groups, we are working towards providing full functionality in genomic variant analysis and curation. Second, is the transformation of separate genomic coordinates into a single, synthetic region. This will allow the visualization of two or more genomics regions, from the length of entire chromosomes to just a few exons, within an artificially constructed genomic region. Artificially joining scaffolds facilitates annotation of genomic features split across two or more regions of a fragmented assembly (e.g, scaffolds), likely informing potential improvements to the genome assembly in the process. Additionally, this will allow hiding (visual genome folding) intra- and intergenic regions to provide a more information-rich visualization of the genome. For example, bringing exons closer together will facilitate annotating gene models with long introns, as sequences at the edge of exons separated by thousands of base-pairs will be shown adjacently.
Apollo is currently being used in over one hundred genome annotation projects around the world, ranging from annotation of a single species to lineage-specific efforts supporting the annotation of dozens of species at a time.