Microfluidic qPCR enables high throughput quantification of microbial functional genes but requires strict curation of primers

Sally L. Crane, Josie van Dorst, Grant C. Hose, Catherine K. King, Belinda C. Ferrari*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Citations (Scopus)
37 Downloads (Pure)


Quantification of microbial functional genes enhances predictions of soil biogeochemical process rates, but reliance on low-throughput quantitative PCR (qPCR) limits the scope of ecological studies to a handful of targets. Here, we explore whether microfluidic qPCR (MFQPCR) is a viable high-throughput alternative for functional gene quantification, by evaluating the efficiency, specificity and sensitivity of 29 established and 12 newly designed primer pairs targeting taxonomic, nitrogen-cycling, and hydrocarbon degradation genes in genomic DNA soil extracts, under three different sets of MFQPCR assay conditions. Without curation, commonly-used qPCR primer pairs yielded an extreme range of reaction efficiencies (25.9-100.1%), but when conditions were optimized, MFQPCR produced copy-number estimates comparable to traditional qPCR. To guide microbial soil ecologists considering adoption of MFQPCR, we present suggestions for primer selection, including omission of inosines, degeneracy scores of < 9, amplicon sizes of ≤ 211 bp, and GC content of 32-61%. We conclude that, while the nanoliter reaction volumes, rapid thermocycling and one-size-fits-all reaction conditions of MFQPCR necessitates more stringent primer selection criteria than is commonly applied in soil microbial ecology, the ability to quantify up to 96 targets in 96 samples makes MFQPCR a valuable tool for monitoring shifts in functional community abundances. MFQPCR will particularly suit studies targeting multiple clade-specific functional genes, or when primer design is informed by previous knowledge of the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number145
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Environmental Science
Issue numberNOV
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2018. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • microfluidic qPCR
  • quantitative PCR
  • functional genes
  • nitrogen cycle
  • hydrocarbon degradation
  • microbial community
  • terrestrial ecology
  • biogeochemical cycles

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