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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2003 Aug;69(8):4823-9.

Fidelity of select restriction endonucleases in determining microbial diversity by terminal-restriction fragment length polymorphism.

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Biology Department, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington 98225, USA.


An evaluation of 18 DNA restriction endonucleases for use in terminal-restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis was performed by using richness and density indices in conjunction with computer simulations for 4,603 bacterial small-subunit rRNA gene sequences. T-RFLP analysis has become a commonly used method for screening environmental samples for precursory identification and community comparison studies due to its precision and high-throughput capability. The accuracy of T-RFLP analysis for describing a community has not yet been thoroughly evaluated. In this study, we attempted to classify restriction endonucleases based upon the ability to resolve unique terminal-restriction fragments (T-RFs) or operational taxonomic units (OTUs) from a database of gene sequences. Furthermore, we assessed the predictive accuracy of T-RFLP at fixed values of community richness (n = 1, 5, 10, 50, and 100). Classification of restriction endonuclease fidelity was performed by measuring richness and density for the entire database of T-RFs. Further analysis of T-RFLP accuracy for determining richness was performed by iterative, random sampling from the derived database of T-RFs. It became apparent that two constraints were influential for measuring the fidelity of a given restriction endonuclease: (i) the ability to resolve unique sequence variants and (ii) the number of unique T-RFs that fell within a measurable size range. The latter constraint was found to be more significant for estimating restriction endonuclease fidelity. Of the 18 restriction endonucleases examined, BstUI, DdeI, Sau96I, and MspI had the highest frequency of resolving single populations in model communities. All restriction endonucleases used in this study detected < or =70% of the OTUs at richness values greater than 50 OTUs per modeled community. Based on the results of our in silico experiments, the most efficacious uses of T-RFLP for microbial diversity studies are those that address situations where there is low to intermediate species richness (e.g., colonization, early successional stages, biofilm formation).

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