Directly labelling locus-specific primers for microsatellite analysis is expensive and a common limitation to small-budget molecular ecology projects. More cost-effective end-labelling of PCR products can be achieved through a three primer PCR approach, involving a fluorescently labelled universal primer in combination with modified locus-specific primers with 5' universal primer sequence tails. This technique has been widely used but has been limited largely due to a lack of available universal primers suitable for co-amplifying large numbers of size overlapping loci and without requiring locus-specific PCR conditions to be modified. In this study, we report a suite of four high-performance universal primers that can be employed in a three primer PCR approach for efficient and cost-effective fluorescent end-labelling of PCR fragments. Amplification efficiency is maximized owing to high universal primer Tm values (approximately 60+ °C) that enhance primer versatility and enable higher annealing temperatures to be employed compared with commonly used universal primers such as M13. We demonstrate that these universal primers can be combined with multiple fluorophores to co-amplify multiple loci efficiently via multiplex PCR. This method provides a level of multiplexing and PCR efficiency similar to microsatellite fluorescent detection assays using directly labelled primers while dramatically reducing project costs. Primer performance is tested using several alternative PCR strategies that involve both single and multiple fluorophores in single and multiplex PCR across a wide range of taxa.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.