Experimental factors affecting PCR-based estimates of microbial species richness and evenness

ISME J. 2010 May;4(5):642-7. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2009.153. Epub 2010 Jan 21.


Pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA gene amplicons for microbial community profiling can, for equivalent costs, yield more than two orders of magnitude more sensitivity than traditional PCR cloning and Sanger sequencing. With this increased sensitivity and the ability to analyze multiple samples in parallel, it has become possible to evaluate several technical aspects of PCR-based community structure profiling methods. We tested the effect of amplicon length and primer pair on estimates of species richness (number of species) and evenness (relative abundance of species) by assessing the potentially tractable microbial community residing in the termite hindgut. Two regions of the 16S rRNA gene were sequenced from one of two common priming sites, spanning the V1-V2 or V8 regions, using amplicons ranging in length from 352 to 1443 bp. Our results show that both amplicon length and primer pair markedly influence estimates of richness and evenness. However, estimates of species evenness are consistent among different primer pairs targeting the same region. These results highlight the importance of experimental methodology when comparing diversity estimates across communities.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques / economics
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques / methods*
  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Isoptera / microbiology*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / economics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods*


  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S