The majority of scientists performing expression studies use the mRNA-Seq protocol (random-primed cDNA synthesis after fragmentation of PolyA-purified transcripts) and sequence the fragments with Illumina technology. By planning the experiment the question of the sequencing depth immediately arises. And for all of you being interested in an answer I want to share with you the recommendations on sequencing depth from experts in the field of transcriptome sequencing published in genomeweb.
You can see that the recommendations vary between 10 million single end reads and up to hundreds of millions reads depending on the exact need. And it is really tough for the experts to give a concrete number. Please keep in mind that about 80-85% of the transcripts in a typical transcriptome are representing only a few highly expressed transcripts whereas the majority of transcripts is present in a few copies only. For just straight gene expression analysis the interviewed scientists usually use around 20 – 30 million reads per sample. But when your aim is to look at really low expressed genes, like some transcription factors, you definitely have to apply a higher sequencing depth. And the very same is true when transcript isoforms or fusion genes shall be analyzed. For this applications the required sequencing depth can be as much as a full channel per sample.
So, enjoy reading their comments!