The Choice of PCR Primers Has Great Impact on Assessments of Bacterial Community Diversity and Dynamics in a Wastewater Treatment Plant
Journal article, 2013
Assessments of bacterial community diversity and dynamics are fundamental for the understanding of microbial ecology as well as biotechnological applications. We show that the choice of PCR primers has great impact on the results of analyses of diversity and dynamics using gene libraries and DNA fingerprinting. Two universal primer pairs targeting the 16S rRNA gene, 27F&1492R and 63F&M1387R, were compared and evaluated by analyzing the bacterial community in the activated sludge of a large-scale wastewater treatment plant. The two primer pairs targeted distinct parts of the bacterial community, none encompassing the other, both with similar richness. Had only one primer pair been used, very different conclusions had been drawn regarding dominant phylogenetic and putative functional groups. With 27F&1492R, Betaproteobacteria would have been determined to be the dominating taxa while 63F&M1387R would have described Alphaproteobacteria as the most common taxa. Microscopy and fluorescence in situ hybridization analysis showed that both Alphaproteobacteria and Betaproteobacteria were abundant in the activated sludge, confirming that the two primer pairs target two different fractions of the bacterial community. Furthermore, terminal restriction fragment polymorphism analyses of a series of four activated sludge samples showed that the two primer pairs would have resulted in different conclusions about community stability and the factors contributing to changes in community composition. In conclusion, different PCR primer pairs, although considered universal, target different ranges of bacteria and will thus show the diversity and dynamics of different fractions of the bacterial community in the analyzed sample. We also show that while a database search can serve as an indicator of how universal a primer pair is, an experimental assessment is necessary to evaluate the suitability for a specific environmental sample.