A framework for developing and validating taxon-specific primers for specimen identification from environmental DNA

Anna MACDONALD, Stephen SARRE

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    18 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Taxon-specific DNA tests are applied to many ecological and management questions, increasingly using environmental DNA (eDNA). eDNA facilitates noninvasive ecological studies but introduces additional risks of bias and error. For effective application, PCR primers must be developed for each taxon and validated in each system. We outline a nine step framework for the development and validation of taxon-specific primers for eDNA analysis in ecological studies, involving reference database construction, phylogenetic evaluation of the target gene, primer design, primer evaluation in silico, and laboratory evaluation of primer specificity, sensitivity and utility. Our framework makes possible a rigorous evaluation of likely sources of error. The first five steps can be conducted relatively rapidly and (where reference DNA sequences are available) require minimal laboratory resources, enabling assessment of primer suitability before investing in further work. Steps six to eight require more costly laboratory analyses but are essential to evaluate risks of false-positive and false-negative results, while step 9 relates to field implementation. As an example, we have developed and evaluated primers to specifically amplify part of the mitochondrial ND2 gene from Australian bandicoots. If adopted during the early stages of primer development, our framework will facilitate large-scale implementation of well-designed DNA tests to detect specific wildlife from eDNA samples. This will provide researchers and managers with an understanding of the strengths and limitations of their data and the conclusions that can be drawn from them.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)708-720
    Number of pages13
    JournalMolecular Ecology Resources
    Volume17
    Issue number4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2017

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