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Microb Ecol. 1996 May;31(3):269-80.

Broad-Scale Approaches to the Determination of Soil Microbial Community Structure: Application of the Community DNA Hybridization Technique

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Unit of Integrative Bioscience, Cellular and Environmental Physiology Department, Scottish Crop Research Institute, Invergowrie, Dundee, Scotland DD2 5DA, UK,


Broad-scale approaches seek to integrate information on whole microbial communities. It is widely recognized that culture techniques are too selective and unrepresentative to allow a realistic assessment of the overall structure of microbial communities. Techniques based on fatty acid or metabolic profiles determine the phenotypic composition of the community. Complementary information about the genotypic structure of soil microbial communities necessitates analysis of community DNA. To determine broad-scale differences in soil microbial community structure (i.e., differences at the whole community level, rather than specific differences in species composition), we have applied a community hybridization technique to determine the similarity and relative diversity of two samples by cross hybridization. In previous studies this assay failed with whole-soil community DNA. Usable hybridization signals were obtained using whole-soil DNA, in this study, by digesting the DNA with restriction enzymes before the labeling with a random-primer reaction. The community hybridization technique was tested using a graded series of microbial fractions, increasing in complexity, all isolated from the same soil sample. This demonstrated that single bacterial species and a mixture of cultivable bacteria were less complex and only 5% similar to whole-community DNA or bacteria directly extracted from the soil. Extracted bacterial and whole-community DNA were 75% similar to each other and equally complex. When DNA was extracted from four different agricultural soils, their similarities ranged from 35 to 75%. The potential usefulness of community hybridization applied to soil microbial communities is discussed.


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