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Open Access Open Badges Methodology article

Quantitative Single-letter Sequencing: a method for simultaneously monitoring numerous known allelic variants in single DNA samples

Baptiste Monsion1, Hervé Duborjal2 and Stéphane Blanc1*

Author Affiliations

1 Biologie et Génétique des Interactions Plante-Parasite (BGPI), INRA-CIRAD-SupagroM, TA A-54/K, Campus International de Baillarguet, 34398 Montpellier Cedex 5, France

2 COGENICS GENOME Express SA, 38944 Meylan, France

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BMC Genomics 2008, 9:85  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-85

Published: 21 February 2008



Pathogens such as fungi, bacteria and especially viruses, are highly variable even within an individual host, intensifying the difficulty of distinguishing and accurately quantifying numerous allelic variants co-existing in a single nucleic acid sample. The majority of currently available techniques are based on real-time PCR or primer extension and often require multiplexing adjustments that impose a practical limitation of the number of alleles that can be monitored simultaneously at a single locus.


Here, we describe a novel method that allows the simultaneous quantification of numerous allelic variants in a single reaction tube and without multiplexing. Quantitative Single-letter Sequencing (QSS) begins with a single PCR amplification step using a pair of primers flanking the polymorphic region of interest. Next, PCR products are submitted to single-letter sequencing with a fluorescently-labelled primer located upstream of the polymorphic region. The resulting monochromatic electropherogram shows numerous specific diagnostic peaks, attributable to specific variants, signifying their presence/absence in the DNA sample. Moreover, peak fluorescence can be quantified and used to estimate the frequency of the corresponding variant in the DNA population.

Using engineered allelic markers in the genome of Cauliflower mosaic virus, we reliably monitored six different viral genotypes in DNA extracted from infected plants. Evaluation of the intrinsic variance of this method, as applied to both artificial plasmid DNA mixes and viral genome populations, demonstrates that QSS is a robust and reliable method of detection and quantification for variants with a relative frequency of between 0.05 and 1.


This simple method is easily transferable to many other biological systems and questions, including those involving high throughput analysis, and can be performed in any laboratory since it does not require specialized equipment.