Introduction: Molecular ecological analysis based on 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis is well established for the characterisation of complex bacterial communities. However, ‘universal’ PCR primers can introduce biases into the analysis of the species composition of clone libraries because of mismatches between the primer and target organism sequences. In this study, three universal primer sets were compared for the analysis of the microflora in subgingival plaque.
Methods: Three subgingival plaque samples were collected from two subjects with localised severe chronic periodontitis. Half of each sample was cultured while DNA was extracted from the remaining half and 16S rDNA amplified with universal primer pairs 27F, 1525R (A); 27F, 1492R (B) and 530F, 1525R (C). Amplified genes were cloned, sequenced and identified by comparison with 16S rRNA databases.
Results: 137 taxa were identified among 177 isolates and 417 clones sequenced. Of these, 86 were detected only by the molecular technique whereas 26 were found only by culture. Sequences from 81 taxa did not correspond to those of named species and of these, 38 were not represented in the nucleotide databases. 16S RNA genes for these 38 taxa were sequenced and deposited with GenBank.
Conclusion: The use of three sets of universal primers allowed the identification of 38 novel bacterial phylotypes. There were marked differences in the composition of the libraries generated by the different primer sets. A combination of molecular and cultural techniques is recommended to maximise the coverage of detection of bacterial taxa in oral samples.