Scientists took decades to decode the complex code of DNA, and though we have come a long way, the journey is far from over. The development of DRAGEN sheds light on new unknown secrets, unlocking a deeper understanding of our bodies and nature around us. Illumina has always provided us with the best tools and resources, acting as a powerhouse in the world of genomics, best known for their NGS (Next Generation Sequencing) technologyDRAGEN is a product of Illumina. DRAGEN analyses raw DNA sequencing data to identify genetic variations like SNPs(Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms), insertions/deletions, SVs (Structural Variations), and CNVs (Copy Number Variations). It utilizes advanced algorithms and technology like machine learning algorithms, Multi-genome algorithms, and accelerated custom hardware for faster, more accurate, and comprehensive analysis.  

Deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, is the molecule that makes up the blueprint of life. It is an enchanting double helix structure, or just imagine it as a double helix ladder twisted into billions of rungs. Each rung is encoded into a set of tiny chemical instructions, commanding our cells how to build and function. Barely visible to our naked eyes, this tiny molecule holds immense power and secrets, shaping not only our physical traits but our vulnerability to diseases, our personalities, and even our response to the environment. As we know, DNA holds immense potential; unraveling its mysteries and secrets, however, is a difficult task. With time, we came across many new tools and techniques to unravel this mystery, which were time-consuming and error-prone. But hold on, a scientific musketeer is here, called “DRAGEN (Dynamic Read Analysis for GENomics),” just like the name indicates, it is taking the world of genomic analysis by storm, promising to revolutionize how we analyze genome – much faster, more accurate insights into mosaics of human variations.

Now, fasten your seat belts because we’re diving into the world of DRAGEN and exploring its groundbreaking potential.  

DRAGEN’s Superpowers

Multi-genome approach: DRAGEN is like a Swiss army knife of genetic analysis, it can identify all sorts of variations from tiny SNPs(single nucleotide polymorphisms) to colossal structural rearrangements. Leaving no stone unturned, DRAGEN takes a multi-genome approach, giving us a complete picture of the genetic landscape and ensuring our DNA gets the spotlight. To detect a wide range of variations and improve accuracy by employing a reference library of multiple genomes. It leverages a graph containing 64 human haplotypes, providing a richer representation of common variants compared to single-genome approaches, improving accuracy and efficiency.

Accelerated data processing: DRAGEN understands that time is precious; compared to traditional methods, it’s like Usain Bolt chasing a snail. It runs through massive datasets in a fraction of the time, delivering answers and insights quickly. This results in quicker answers, accelerating research, and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in understanding our genetic code. DRAGEN uses highly optimized hardware and software to speed up tasks like alignment, mapping, and variant calling, leading to significantly faster analysis times. It processes a human genome in 30 minutes on an onsite server, achieving F-scores ranging from 76.90% for SVs to 99.86% for SNV.

Machine learning integration: DRAGEN has embarked on a global genetic odyssey. A study was done involving 3,202 individuals, portraiting each participant’sparticipant’s genome. And it showcased it with high precision and details(identified 118,210,374 SNVs and 25,161,418 indels). It incorporates machine learning models to refine variant calls and reduce false positives, enhancing its precision.

Algorithmic Components:

  • Mapping and alignment: A combination of algorithms is useful for the efficient alignment of sequencing reads to the reference genome(s). DRAGEN combines algorithms like BWA-MEM and Novoalign for efficiency.
  • Variant calling: DRAGEN employs different calling like Manta for structural variant (SV) calling, HaplotypeCaller for single nucleotide variant (SNV), and insertion/deletion (indel) calling.
  • Filtering and quality control: Multi-step filtering process and quality control metrics ensure high-confidence variant calls, therefore, DRAGEN uses this process.
  • Machine learning:  Utilizing machine learning models to improve variant quality and reduce false positives, particularly for challenging variant types, is what DRAGEN uses for producing accurate results.
  • Population-level analysis: Providing new methods like IGG to create fully genotyped multi-sample VCF files, essential for GWAS and other functional studies. Truvari50 further empowers analysis by combining STR, SV, and CNV variations across individuals and populations, revealing deeper insights into various phenotypes.

DRAGEN’s Applications

DRAGEN is a platform designed to be highly scalable, allowing it to process large amounts of data quickly and efficiently, and it is optimized for use in high-throughput sequencing environments. It supports a wide range of applications, including whole genome sequencing, exome sequencing, RNA sequencing, oncology, cancer research, infectious disease studies, and population genetics.

 DRAGEN is a significant leap forward in our ability to understand the complexity of human genomes. It has the potential to impact various aspects of science and research. Some of the major impacts are as follows:

  • Discovery of novel variants: DRAGEN opened the door for understanding previously hidden genetic contributions to disease and health by identifying more variants, including SVs, CNVs, and STRs, in the 1000 Genomes Project dataset compared to other methods.
  • Comprehensive analysis for rare diseases: Subtle mutations hold the key to diagnosis and treatment; DRAGEN’s ability to capture all types of variations makes it invaluable for rare disease research.
  • Deployment in large-scale projects: Paving the way for personalized medicine and population-level research advancements, DRAGEN has already been used in major projects like the UK Biobank.
  • Integration with Illumina sequencing machines: Offering a seamless workflow for researchers, DRAGEN’s direct integration into Illumina machines further streamlines the analysis process. 


DRAGEN has been proven to be a powerful tool. Compared with other tools like GATK and FreeBayes, it proved superior in accuracy and speed. It achieved a significant reduction in false positive reports compared to other methods. Things missed by standard approaches are caught up with the help of DRAGEN, delivering the results in just 30 minutes. DRAGEN uses different approaches, like combining machine learning and multiple-genome algorithms, to identify complex variants. The use of advanced algorithms and approaches pinpoints critical disease targets and clinically relevant genetic markers accurately. It has proved to be a specialized method for medically crucial genes like GBA and SMN for maximizing the potential of personalized medicine and therapeutics.

Being a game changer, one may not forget it is still evolving, and there are many limitations and ethical considerations to observe together with the vast ocean of unexplored knowledge. Despite this, it opens a new portal to the unknown world of research and medicine.

The future of genomic analysis looks bright. The power of DRAGEN has the potential to transform our lives in ways we can only imagine. We must use this power carefully and responsibly to unlock a future filled with medical advancements and personalized healthcare. We can also deepen our knowledge and understanding of DNA’s complex structure and function. With advances in technologies like DRAGEN, the possibilities are endless.

Article Source: Reference Paper | For academic institutions, DRAGEN v4.2 is available freely upon request.

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Anchal is a consulting scientific writing intern at CBIRT with a passion for bioinformatics and its miracles. She is pursuing an MTech in Bioinformatics from Delhi Technological University, Delhi. Through engaging prose, she invites readers to explore the captivating world of bioinformatics, showcasing its groundbreaking contributions to understanding the mysteries of life. Besides science, she enjoys reading and painting.


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