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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

Digital PCR provides sensitive and absolute calibration for high throughput sequencing

Richard A White, Paul C Blainey, H Christina Fan and Stephen R Quake*

Author Affiliations

Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stanford, California 94305, USA

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BMC Genomics 2009, 10:116  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-10-116

Published: 19 March 2009

Abstract

Background

Next-generation DNA sequencing on the 454, Solexa, and SOLiD platforms requires absolute calibration of the number of molecules to be sequenced. This requirement has two unfavorable consequences. First, large amounts of sample-typically micrograms-are needed for library preparation, thereby limiting the scope of samples which can be sequenced. For many applications, including metagenomics and the sequencing of ancient, forensic, and clinical samples, the quantity of input DNA can be critically limiting. Second, each library requires a titration sequencing run, thereby increasing the cost and lowering the throughput of sequencing.

Results

We demonstrate the use of digital PCR to accurately quantify 454 and Solexa sequencing libraries, enabling the preparation of sequencing libraries from nanogram quantities of input material while eliminating costly and time-consuming titration runs of the sequencer. We successfully sequenced low-nanogram scale bacterial and mammalian DNA samples on the 454 FLX and Solexa DNA sequencing platforms. This study is the first to definitively demonstrate the successful sequencing of picogram quantities of input DNA on the 454 platform, reducing the sample requirement more than 1000-fold without pre-amplification and the associated bias and reduction in library depth.

Conclusion

The digital PCR assay allows absolute quantification of sequencing libraries, eliminates uncertainties associated with the construction and application of standard curves to PCR-based quantification, and with a coefficient of variation close to 10%, is sufficiently precise to enable direct sequencing without titration runs.