In this paper, we asked if it is possible to identify the best primers and reaction conditions based on improvements in reaction speed when optimizing isothermal reactions. We used digital single-molecule, real-time analyses of both speed and efficiency of isothermal amplification reactions, which revealed that improvements in the speed of isothermal amplification reactions did not always correlate with improvements in digital efficiency (the fraction of molecules that amplify) or with analytical sensitivity. However, we observed that the speeds of amplification for single-molecule (in a digital device) and multi-molecule (e.g. in a PCR well plate) formats always correlated for the same conditions. Also, digital efficiency correlated with the analytical sensitivity of the same reaction performed in a multi-molecule format. Our finding was supported experimentally with examples of primer design, the use or exclusion of loop primers in different combinations, and the use of different enzyme mixtures in one-step reverse-transcription loop-mediated amplification (RT-LAMP). Our results show that measuring the digital efficiency of amplification of single-template molecules allows quick, reliable comparisons of the analytical sensitivity of reactions under any two tested conditions, independent of the speeds of the isothermal amplification reactions.
© The Author(s) 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.