Implementation of Novel Design Features for qPCR-Based eDNA Assessment




Veldhoen, Nik
Hobbs, Jared
Ikonomou, Georgios
Hii, Michael
Lesperance, Mary
Helbing, Caren C.

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Environmental stewardship requires timely, accurate information related to the status of a given ecosystem and the species that occupy it. Recent advances in the application of the highly sensitive real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) towards identification of constituents within environmental DNA (eDNA) now allow targeted detection of the presence of species-specific biological material within a localized geographic region. However, as with all molecular techniques predicated on the specificity and sensitivity of the PCR assay, careful validation of each eDNA qPCR assay in development must be performed both under controlled laboratory conditions and when challenged with field-derived eDNA samples. Such a step-wise approach forms the basis for incorporation of innovative qPCR design features that strengthen the implementation and interpretation of the eDNA assay. This includes empirical determination that the qPCR assay is refractory to the presence of human DNA and the use of a tripartite assay approach comprised of 1) a primer set targeting plant chloroplast that evaluates the presence of amplifiable DNA from field samples to increase confidence in a negative result, 2) an animal group primer set to increase confidence in the assay result, and 3) a species-specific primer set to assess presence of DNA from the target species. To demonstrate this methodology, we generated eDNA assays specific for the North American bullfrog (Lithobates (Rana) catesbeiana) and the Rocky Mountain tailed frog (Ascaphus montanus) and characterized each with respect to detection sensitivity and specificity with demonstrated performance in a field survey scenario. The qPCR design features presented herein address specific challenges of eDNA assays thereby increasing their interpretative power.




Veldhoen, N., Hobbs, J., Ikonomou, G., Hii, M., Lesperance, M. & Helbing, C.C. (2016). Implementation of Novel Design Features for qPCR-Based eDNA Assessment. PLoS ONE, 11(11), e0164907.