Formation of Pseudo-Terminal Restriction Fragments, a PCR-Related Bias Affecting Terminal Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism Analysis of Microbial Community Structure
Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis of PCR-amplified genes is a widely used fingerprinting technique in molecular microbial ecology. In this study, we show that besides expected terminal restriction fragments (T-RFs), additional secondary T-RFs occur in T-RFLP analysis of amplicons from cloned 16S rRNA genes at high frequency. A total of 50% of 109 bacterial and 78% of 68 archaeal clones from the guts of cetoniid beetle larvae, using MspI and AluI as restriction
... nzymes, respectively, were affected by the presence of these additional T-RFs. These peaks were called "pseudo-T-RFs" since they can be detected as terminal fluorescently labeled fragments in T-RFLP analysis but do not represent the primary terminal restriction site as indicated by sequence data analysis. Pseudo-T-RFs were also identified in T-RFLP profiles of pure culture and environmental DNA extracts. Digestion of amplicons with the single-strand-specific mung bean nuclease prior to T-RFLP analysis completely eliminated pseudo-T-RFs. This clearly indicates that single-stranded amplicons are the reason for the formation of pseudo-T-RFs, most probably because singlestranded restriction sites cannot be cleaved by restriction enzymes. The strong dependence of pseudo-T-RF formation on the number of cycles used in PCR indicates that (partly) single-stranded amplicons can be formed during amplification of 16S rRNA genes. In a model, we explain how transiently formed secondary structures of single-stranded amplicons may render single-stranded amplicons accessible to restriction enzymes. The occurrence of pseudo-T-RFs has consequences for the interpretation of T-RFLP profiles from environmental samples, since pseudo-T-RFs may lead to an overestimation of microbial diversity. Therefore, it is advisable to establish 16S rRNA gene sequence clone libraries in parallel with T-RFLP analysis from the same sample and to check clones for their in vitro digestion T-RF pattern to facilitate the detection of pseudo-T-RFs.