Enhanced low-template DNA analysis conditions and investigation of allele dropout patterns
Journal article, 2015
Forensic DNA analysis applying PCR enables profiling of minute biological samples. Enhanced analysis conditions can be applied to further push the limit of detection, coming with the risk of visualising artefacts and allele imbalances. We have evaluated the consecutive increase of PCR cycles from 30 to 35 to investigate the limitations of low-template (LT) DNA analysis, applying the short tandem repeat (STR) analysis kit PowerPlex ESX 16. Mock crime scene DNA extracts of four different quantities (from around 8-84 pg) were tested. All PCR products were analysed using 5, 10 and 20 capillary electrophoresis (CE) injection seconds. Bayesian models describing allele dropout patterns, allele peak heights and heterozygote balance were developed to assess the overall improvements in EPG quality with altered PCR/CE settings. The models were also used to evaluate the impact of amplicon length, STR marker and fluorescent label on the risk for allele dropout. The allele dropout probability decreased for each PCR cycle increment from 30 to 33 PCR cycles. Irrespective of DNA amount, the dropout probability was not affected by further increasing the number of PCR cycles. For the 42 and 84 pg samples, mainly complete DNA profiles were generated applying 32 PCR cycles. For the 8 and 17 pg samples, the allele dropouts decreased from 100% using 30 cycles to about 75% and 20%, respectively. The results for 33, 34 and 35 PCR cycles indicated that heterozygote balance and stutter ratio were mainly affected by DNA amount, and not directly by PCR cycle number and CE injection settings. We found 32 and 33 PCR cycles with 10 CE injection seconds to be optimal, as 34 and 35 PCR cycles did not improve allele detection and also included CE saturation problems. We find allele dropout probability differences between several STR markers. Markers labelled with the fluorescent dyes CXR-ET (red in electropherogram) and TMR-ET (shown as black) generally have higher dropout risks compared with those labelled with JOE (green) and fluorescein (blue). Overall, the marker D10S1248 has the lowest allele dropout probability and D8S1179 the highest. The marker effect is mainly pronounced for 30-32 PCR cycles. Such effects would not be expected if the amplification efficiencies were identical for all markers. Understanding allele dropout risks and the variability in peak heights and balances is important for correct interpretation of forensic DNA profiles.
Forensic DNA analysis