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Keywords:

  • diagnostic PCR;
  • PCR optimisation;
  • primer sensitivity;
  • standardise DNA templates;
  • trophic interactions

Summary

1. Multiplex PCR is a valuable tool in many biological studies but it is a multifaceted procedure that has to be planned and optimised thoroughly to achieve robust and meaningful results. In particular, primer concentrations have to be adjusted to assure an even amplification of all targeted DNA fragments. Until now, total DNA extracts were used for balancing primer efficiencies; however, the applicability for comparisons between taxa or different multiple-copy genes was limited owing to the unknown number of template molecules present per total DNA.

2. Based on a multiplex system developed to track trophic interactions in high Alpine arthropods, we demonstrate a fast and easy way of generating standardised DNA templates. These were then used to balance the amplification success for the different targets and to subsequently determine the sensitivity of each primer pair in the multiplex PCR.

3. In the current multiplex assay, this approach led to an even amplification success for all seven targeted DNA fragments. Using this balanced multiplex PCR, methodological bias owing to variation in primer efficiency will be avoided when analysing field-derived samples.

4. The approach outlined here allows comparing multiplex PCR sensitivity, independent of the investigated species, genome size or the targeted genes. The application of standardised DNA templates not only makes it possible to optimise primer efficiency within a given multiplex PCR, but it also offers to adjust and/or to compare the sensitivity between different assays. Along with other factors that influence the success of multiplex reactions, and which we discuss here in relation to the presented detection system, the adoption of this approach will allow for direct comparison of multiplex PCR data between systems and studies, enhancing the utility of this assay type.