A liquid chromatography - mass spectrometry method to measure ¹³C-isotope enrichment for DNA stable-isotope probing

Can J Microbiol. 2012 Mar;58(3):287-92. doi: 10.1139/w11-133. Epub 2012 Feb 22.


DNA stable-isotope probing (DNA-SIP) is a cultivation-independent technique that makes it possible to associate metabolic function and taxonomic identity in a wide range of terrestrial and aquatic environments. In DNA-SIP, DNA is labeled via the assimilation of a labeled growth substrate that is subsequently used to identify microorganisms involved in assimilation of the substrate. However, the labeling time has to be sufficient to obtain labeled DNA but not so long such that cross-feeding of ¹³C-labeled metabolites from the primary consumers to nontarget species can occur. Confirmation that the DNA is isotopically labeled in DNA-SIP assays can be achieved using an isotope ratio mass spectrometer. In this study, we describe the development of a method using liquid chromatography (HPLC) coupled to a quadrupole mass spectrometer (QMS) to measure the ¹³C enrichment of thymine incorporated into DNA in Escherichia coli cultures fed with [¹³C]acetate. The method involved the hydrolysis of DNA extracted from the cultures that released the nucleotides, followed by the separation of the thymine by HPLC on a reverse-phase C₈ column in isocratic elution mode and the detection and quantification of ¹³C-labeled thymine by QMS. To mimic a DNA-SIP assay, a DNA mixture was made using ¹³C-labeled E. coli DNA with DNA extracted from five bacterial species. The HPLC-MS method was able to measure the correct proportion of ¹³C-DNA in the mix. This method can then be used as an alternative to the use of isotope ratio mass spectrometry in DNA-SIP assays.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Carbon Isotopes / analysis*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Chromatography, Liquid*
  • DNA / analysis*
  • DNA Probes / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Isotope Labeling
  • Mass Spectrometry*
  • Microbiological Techniques / methods*


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • DNA Probes
  • DNA