5WBF: a low-cost and straightforward whole blood filtration method suitable for whole-genome sequencing of Plasmodium falciparum clinical isolates

Abstract Background Whole-genome sequencing (WGS) is becoming increasingly helpful to assist malaria control programmes. A major drawback of this approach is the large amount of human DNA compared to parasite DNA extracted from unprocessed whole blood. As red blood cells (RBCs) have a diameter of about 7–8 µm and exhibit some deformability, it was hypothesized that cheap and commercially available 5 µm filters might retain leukocytes but much less of Plasmodium falciparum-infected RBCs. This study aimed to test the hypothesis that such a filtration method, named 5WBF (for 5 µm Whole Blood Filtration), may provide highly enriched parasite material suitable for P. falciparum WGS. Methods Whole blood was collected from five patients experiencing a P. falciparum malaria episode (ring-stage parasitaemia range: 0.04–5.5%) and from mock samples obtained by mixing synchronized, ring-stage cultured P. falciparum 3D7 parasites with uninfected human whole blood (final parasitaemia range: 0.02–1.1%). These whole blood samples (50 to 400 µL) were diluted in RPMI 1640 medium or PBS 1× buffer and filtered with a syringe connected to a 5 µm commercial filter. DNA was extracted from 5WBF-treated and unfiltered counterpart blood samples using a commercial kit. The 5WBF method was evaluated on the ratios of parasite:human DNA assessed by qPCR and by sequencing depth and percentages of coverage from WGS data (Illumina NextSeq 500). As a comparison, the popular selective whole-genome amplification (sWGA) method, which does not rely on blood filtration, was applied to the unfiltered counterpart blood samples. Results After applying 5WBF, qPCR indicated an average of twofold loss in the amount of parasite template DNA (Pf ARN18S gene) and from 4096- to 65,536-fold loss of human template DNA (human β actin gene). WGS analyses revealed that > 95% of the  parasite nuclear and organellar genomes were all covered at ≥ 10× depth for all samples tested. In sWGA counterparts, the organellar genomes were poorly covered and from 47.7 to 82.1% of the nuclear genome was covered at ≥ 10× depth depending on parasitaemia. Sequence reads were homogeneously distributed across gene sequences for 5WBF-treated samples (n = 5460 genes; mean coverage: 91×; median coverage: 93×; 5th percentile: 70×; 95th percentile: 103×), allowing the identification of gene copy number variations such as for gch1. This later analysis was not possible for sWGA-treated samples, as a much more heterogeneous distribution of reads across gene sequences was observed (mean coverage: 80×; median coverage: 51×; 5th percentile: 7×; 95th percentile: 245×). Conclusions The novel 5WBF leucodepletion method is simple to implement and based on commercially available, standardized 5 µm filters which cost from 1.0 to 1.7€ per unit depending on suppliers. 5WBF permits extensive genome-wide analysis of P. falciparum ring-stage isolates from minute amounts of whole blood even with parasitaemias as low as 0.02%.
Malaria Journal. 2022 Feb 16;21(1):51