Freezing fecal samples prior to DNA extraction affects the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio determined by downstream quantitative PCR analysis

FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2012 Apr;329(2):193-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6968.2012.02523.x. Epub 2012 Mar 6.


Freezing stool samples prior to DNA extraction and downstream analysis is widely used in metagenomic studies of the human microbiota but may affect the inferred community composition. In this study, DNA was extracted either directly or following freeze storage of three homogenized human fecal samples using three different extraction methods. No consistent differences were observed in DNA yields between extractions on fresh and frozen samples; however, differences were observed between extraction methods. Quantitative PCR analysis was subsequently performed on all DNA samples using six different primer pairs targeting 16S rRNA genes of significant bacterial groups, and the community composition was evaluated by comparing specific ratios of the calculated abundances. In seven of nine cases, the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes 16S rRNA gene ratio was significantly higher in fecal samples that had been frozen compared to identical samples that had not. This effect was further supported by qPCR analysis of bacterial groups within these two phyla. The results demonstrate that storage conditions of fecal samples may adversely affect the determined Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio, which is a frequently used biomarker in gut microbiology.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / chemistry
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Bacteroidetes / chemistry
  • Bacteroidetes / genetics*
  • Bacteroidetes / isolation & purification
  • Cryopreservation / methods*
  • DNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / isolation & purification*
  • Feces / microbiology*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction / standards
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Specimen Handling / methods*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S