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Protist. 2006 Feb;157(1):31-43. Epub 2006 Jan 23.

A multiple PCR-primer approach to access the microeukaryotic diversity in environmental samples.

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Department of Ecology, Technical University Kaiserslautern, Kaiserslautern, Germany.


The Cariaco Basin off the Venezuelan coast in the Caribbean Sea is the world's largest truly marine body of anoxic water. The first rRNA survey of microbial eukaryotes in this environment revealed a number of novel lineages, but sampled only a fraction of the entire diversity. The goal of this study was to significantly improve recovery of protistan rRNA from the Basin. This was achieved by a systematic application of multiple PCR primer sets and substantially larger sequencing efforts. We focused on the most diverse habitat in the basin, anoxic waters approximately 100m below the oxic-anoxic interface, and detected novel lineages that escaped the single PCR primer approach. All clones obtained proved unique. A 99% sequence similarity cut-off value combined these clones into operational taxonomic units (OTUs), over 75% of which proved novel. Some of these OTUs form deep branches within established protistan groups. Others signify discovery of novel protistan lineages that appear unrelated to any known microeukaryote. Surprisingly, even this large-scale multi-primer rRNA approach still missed a substantial part of the samples' rRNA diversity. The overlap between the species lists obtained with different primers is low, with only 4% of OTUs shared by all three libraries, and the number of species detected only once is large (55%). This strongly indicates that, at least in anoxic environments, protistan diversity may be much larger than is commonly thought. A single sample appears to contain thousands of largely novel protistan species. Multiple PCR primer combinations may be needed to capture these species.

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