Recent advances in the cost-efficiency of sequencing technologies enabled the combined DNA-and RNA-sequencing of human individuals at the population-scale, making genome-wide investigations of the inter-individual genetic impact on gene expression viable. Employing mRNA-sequencing data from the Geuvadis Project and genome sequencing data from the 1000 Genomes Project we show that the computational analysis of DNA sequences around splice sites and poly-A signals is able to explain several observations in the phenotype data. In contrast to widespread assessments of statistically significant associations between DNA polymorphisms and quantitative traits, we developed a computational tool to pinpoint the molecular mechanisms by which genetic markers drive variation in RNA-processing, cataloguing and classifying alleles that change the affinity of core RNA elements to their recognizing factors. The in silico models we employ further suggest RNA editing can moonlight as a splicing-modulator, albeit less frequently than genomic sequence diversity. Beyond existing annotations, we demonstrate that the ultra-high resolution of RNA-Seq combined from 462 individuals also provides evidence for thousands of bona fide novel elements of RNA processing-alternative splice sites, introns, and cleavage sites-which are often rare and lowly expressed but in other characteristics similar to their annotated counterparts.
2016. Vol. 6, 32406