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Use Of Length Heterogeneity PCR And Fatty Acid Methyl Ester Profiles To Characterize Microbial Communities In Soil

Nancy J. Ritchie, Mary E. Schutter, Richard P. Dick, David D. Myrold

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ABSTRACT In length heterogeneity PCR (LH-PCR) a fluorescently labeled primer is used to determine the relative amounts of amplified sequences originating from different microorganisms. Labeled fragments are separated by gel electrophoresis and detected by laser-induced fluorescence with an automated gene sequencer. We used LH-PCR to evaluate the composition of the soil microbial community. Four soils, which differed in terms of soil type and/or crop management practice, were studied. Previous data for microbial biomass, nitrogen and carbon contents, and nitrogen mineralization rates suggested that the microbial characteristics of these soils were different. One site received two different treatments: no-till and conventional till perennial ryegrass. The other sites were no-till continuous grass plots at separate locations with different soil types. Community composition was characterized by assessing the natural length heterogeneity in eubacterial sequences amplified from the 5′ domain of the 16S rRNA gene and by determining fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) profiles. We found that LH-PCR results were reproducible. Both methods distinguished the three sites. The most abundant bacterial community members, based on cloned LH-PCR products, were members of the β subclass of the classProteobacteria, theCytophaga-Flexibacter-Bacteriodes group, and the high-G+C-content gram-positive bacterial group. Strong correlations were found between LH-PCR results and FAME results. We found that the LH-PCR method is an efficient, reliable, and highly reproducible method that should be a useful tool in future assessments of microbial community composition.