Examining Sources of Error in PCR by Single-Molecule Sequencing

PLoS One. 2017 Jan 6;12(1):e0169774. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169774. eCollection 2017.


Next-generation sequencing technology has enabled the detection of rare genetic or somatic mutations and contributed to our understanding of disease progression and evolution. However, many next-generation sequencing technologies first rely on DNA amplification, via the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), as part of sample preparation workflows. Mistakes made during PCR appear in sequencing data and contribute to false mutations that can ultimately confound genetic analysis. In this report, a single-molecule sequencing assay was used to comprehensively catalog the different types of errors introduced during PCR, including polymerase misincorporation, structure-induced template-switching, PCR-mediated recombination and DNA damage. In addition to well-characterized polymerase base substitution errors, other sources of error were found to be equally prevalent. PCR-mediated recombination by Taq polymerase was observed at the single-molecule level, and surprisingly found to occur as frequently as polymerase base substitution errors, suggesting it may be an underappreciated source of error for multiplex amplification reactions. Inverted repeat structural elements in lacZ caused polymerase template-switching between the top and bottom strands during replication and the frequency of these events were measured for different polymerases. For very accurate polymerases, DNA damage introduced during temperature cycling, and not polymerase base substitution errors, appeared to be the major contributor toward mutations occurring in amplification products. In total, we analyzed PCR products at the single-molecule level and present here a more complete picture of the types of mistakes that occur during DNA amplification.

Grant support

This work was privately funded by New England Biolabs, of which all authors are employees. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.