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PeerJ. 2015 Aug 18;3:e1190. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1190. eCollection 2015.

Evidence-based recommendations on storing and handling specimens for analyses of insect microbiota.

Author information

1
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado at Boulder , Boulder, CO , United States ; Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder , Boulder, CO , United States.
2
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado at Boulder , Boulder, CO , United States.

Abstract

Research on insect microbiota has greatly expanded over the past decade, along with a growing appreciation of the microbial contributions to insect ecology and evolution. Many of these studies use DNA sequencing to characterize the diversity and composition of insect-associated microbial communities. The choice of strategies used for specimen collection, storage, and handling could introduce biases in molecular assessments of insect microbiota, but such potential influences have not been systematically evaluated. Likewise, although it is common practice to surface sterilize insects prior to DNA extraction, it is not known if this time-consuming step has any effect on microbial community analyses. To resolve these methodological unknowns, we conducted an experiment wherein replicate individual insects of four species were stored intact for two months using five different methods-freezing, ethanol, dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), cetrimonium bromide (CTAB), and room-temperature storage without preservative-and then subjected to whole-specimen 16S rRNA gene sequencing to assess whether the structure of the insect-associated bacterial communities was impacted by these different storage strategies. Overall, different insect species harbored markedly distinct bacterial communities, a pattern that was highly robust to the method used to store samples. Storage method had little to no effect on assessments of microbiota composition, and the magnitude of the effect differed among the insect species examined. No single method emerged as "best," i.e., one consistently having the highest similarity in community structure to control specimens, which were not stored prior to homogenization and DNA sequencing. We also found that surface sterilization did not change bacterial community structure as compared to unsterilized insects, presumably due to the vastly greater microbial biomass inside the insect body relative to its surface. We therefore recommend that researchers can use any of the methods tested here, and base their choice according to practical considerations such as prior use, cost, and availability in the field, although we still advise that all samples within a study be handled in an identical manner when possible. We also suggest that, in large-scale molecular studies of hundreds of insect specimens, surface sterilization may not be worth the time and effort involved. This information should help researchers design sampling strategies and will facilitate cross-comparisons and meta-analyses of microbial community data obtained from insect specimens preserved in different ways.

KEYWORDS:

16S rRNA; Bacterial communities; Bean beetle; Cabbage white butterfly; Grasshopper; Honey bee; Methods; Microbiome; Sequencing; Symbiosis

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