Can multiple-copy sequences of prey DNA be detected amongst the gut contents of invertebrate predators?


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    Present addresses:Department of Zoology, University of Karachi, Karachi 75270, Pakistan;†School of Biological Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 Penang, Malaysia.

W. O. C. Symondson. Fax: + 44-(0)1222-874305;


The first experiments to clearly demonstrate that DNA techniques might be used to detect predator–prey interactions between arthropods are reported. The accurate modelling of such interactions has depended until now upon a mixture of laboratory experiments, population monitoring and biochemical tests. The latter involve gut-content analyses, and have most recently depended upon the development of prey-specific monoclonal antibodies. Although these are excellent for detecting predation on a target prey, they are impractical for analysing the prey range of a particular predator. Molecular detection depends upon the ability of DNA to resist digestion in the predator gut and of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify prey-specific DNA from semidigested material. As a first step, experiments using carabid beetles, Pterostichus cupreus L., as predators and mosquitoes as prey are reported. The target sequences were fully characterized multiple-copy esterase genes from two laboratory strains of Culex quinquefasciatus Say. Although DNA was extracted from homogenates of whole beetles (minus appendages), a 146 bp product could be amplified from both mosquito strains digested in the beetle gut for 28 h. The larger, 263 bp product was detectable for 28 h in one mosquito strain, but could not be amplified after 5 h from the other. Whether the beetles had eaten one mosquito or six, digested for zero or 28 h, the prey were equally detectable. Having demonstrated that shorter, multiple-copy sequences survive digestion for a considerable period in the gut of a predator, the opportunity exists to develop new detection systems for studying predation in the field.