DNA recovery, purity and overall extraction efficiency of a protocol employing a novel silica-based column, Hi-Flow(®) (Generon Ltd., Maidenhead, UK), were compared with that of a standard organic DNA extraction methodology. The quantities of DNA recovered by each method were compared by real-time PCR and quality of DNA by STR typing using the PowerPlex(®) ESI 17 Pro System (Promega Corporation, Madison, WI) on DNA from 10 human bone samples. Overall, the Hi-Flow method recovered comparable quantities of DNA ranging from 0.8ng±1 to 900ng±159 of DNA compared with the organic method ranging from 0.5ng±0.9 to 855ng±156 of DNA. Complete profiles (17/17 loci tested) were obtained for at least one of three replicates for 3/10 samples using the Hi-Flow method and from 2/10 samples with the organic method. All remaining bone samples yielded partial profiles for all replicates with both methods. Compared with a standard organic DNA isolation method, the results indicated that the Hi-Flow method provided equal or improved recovery and quality of DNA without the harmful effects of organic extraction. Moreover, larger extraction volumes (up to 20mL) can be employed with the Hi-Flow method which enabled more bone sample to be extracted at one time.
High throughput sequencing (HTS) generates large amounts of high quality sequence data for microbial genomics. The value of HTS for microbial forensics is the speed at which evidence can be collected and the power to characterize microbial-related evidence to solve biocrimes and bioterrorist events. As HTS technologies continue to improve, they provide increasingly powerful sets of tools to support the entire field of microbial forensics. Accurate, credible results allow analysis and interpretation, significantly influencing the course and/or focus of an investigation, and can impact the response of the government to an attack having individual, political, economic or military consequences. Interpretation of the results of microbial forensic analyses relies on understanding the performance and limitations of HTS methods, including analytical processes, assays and data interpretation. The utility of HTS must be defined carefully within established operating conditions and tolerances. Validation is essential in the development and implementation of microbial forensics methods used for formulating investigative leads attribution. HTS strategies vary, requiring guiding principles for HTS system validation. Three initial aspects of HTS, irrespective of chemistry, instrumentation or software are: 1) sample preparation, 2) sequencing, and 3) data analysis. Criteria that should be considered for HTS validation for microbial forensics are presented here. Validation should be defined in terms of specific application and the criteria described here comprise a foundation for investigators to establish, validate and implement HTS as a tool in microbial forensics, enhancing public safety and national security.
Although investigations of medieval plague victims have identified Yersinia pestis as the putative etiologic agent of the pandemic, methodological limitations have prevented large-scale genomic investigations to evaluate changes in the pathogens virulence over time. We screened over 100 skeletal remains from Black Death victims of the East Smithfield mass burial site (1348-1350, London, England). Recent methods of DNA enrichment coupled with high-throughput DNA sequencing subsequently permitted reconstruction of ten full human mitochondrial genomes (16 kb each) and the full pPCP1 (9.6 kb) virulence-associated plasmid at high coverage. Comparisons of molecular damage profiles between endogenous human and Y. pestis DNA confirmed its authenticity as an ancient pathogen, thus representing the longest contiguous genomic sequence for an ancient pathogen to date. Comparison of our reconstructed plasmid against modern Y. pestis shows identity with several isolates matching the Medievalis biovar; however, our chromosomal sequences indicate the victims were infected with a Y. pestis variant that has not been previously reported. Our data reveal that the Black Death in medieval Europe was caused by a variant of Y. pestis that may no longer exist, and genetic data carried on its pPCP1 plasmid were not responsible for the purported epidemiological differences between ancient and modern forms of Y. pestis infections.
Technological advances in DNA recovery and sequencing have drastically expanded the scope of genetic analyses of ancient specimens to the extent that full genomic investigations are now feasible and are quickly becoming standard. This trend has important implications for infectious disease research because genomic data from ancient microbes may help to elucidate mechanisms of pathogen evolution and adaptation for emerging and re-emerging infections. Here we report a reconstructed ancient genome of Yersinia pestis at 30-fold average coverage from Black Death victims securely dated to episodes of pestilence-associated mortality in London, England, 1348-1350. Genetic architecture and phylogenetic analysis indicate that the ancient organism is ancestral to most extant strains and sits very close to the ancestral node of all Y. pestis commonly associated with human infection. Temporal estimates suggest that the Black Death of 1347-1351 was the main historical event responsible for the introduction and widespread dissemination of the ancestor to all currently circulating Y. pestis strains pathogenic to humans, and further indicates that contemporary Y. pestis epidemics have their origins in the medieval era. Comparisons against modern genomes reveal no unique derived positions in the medieval organism, indicating that the perceived increased virulence of the disease during the Black Death may not have been due to bacterial phenotype. These findings support the notion that factors other than microbial genetics, such as environment, vector dynamics and host susceptibility, should be at the forefront of epidemiological discussions regarding emerging Y. pestis infections.
Various types of biological samples present challenges for extraction of DNA suitable for subsequent molecular analyses. Commonly used extraction methods, such as silica membrane columns and phenol-chloroform, while highly successful may still fail to provide a sufficiently pure DNA extract with some samples. Synchronous coefficient of drag alteration (SCODA), implemented in Boreal Genomics Aurora Nucleic Acid Extraction System (Boreal Genomics, Vancouver, BC), is a new technology that offers the potential to remove inhibitors effectively while simultaneously concentrating DNA. In this initial study, SCODA was tested for its ability to remove various concentrations of forensically and medically relevant polymerase chain reaction (PCR) inhibitors naturally found in tissue, hair, blood, plant, and soil samples. SCODA was used to purify and concentrate DNA from intentionally contaminated DNA samples containing known concentrations of hematin, humic acid, melanin, and tannic acid. The internal positive control (IPC) provided in the Quantifiler™ Human DNA Quantification Kit (Life Technologies, Foster City, CA) and short tandem repeat (STR) profiling (AmpF?STR® Identifiler® Plus PCR Amplification Kit; Life Technologies, Foster City, CA) were used to measure inhibition effects and hence purification. SCODA methodology yielded overall higher efficiency of purification of highly contaminated samples compared with the QIAquick® PCR Purification Kit (Qiagen, Valencia, CA). SCODA-purified DNA yielded no cycle shift of the IPC for each sample and yielded greater allele percentage recovery and relative fluorescence unit values compared with the QIAquick® purification method. The Aurora provided an automated, minimal-step approach to successfully remove inhibitors and concentrate DNA from challenged samples.
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