skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on August 1, 2024

Title: On the causes, consequences, and avoidance of PCR duplicates: Towards a theory of library complexity

Library preparation protocols for most sequencing technologies involve PCR amplification of the template DNA, which open the possibility that a given template DNA molecule is sequenced multiple times. Reads arising from this phenomenon, known as PCR duplicates, inflate the cost of sequencing and can jeopardize the reliability of affected experiments. Despite the pervasiveness of this artefact, our understanding of its causes and of its impact on downstream statistical analyses remains essentially empirical. Here, we develop a general quantitative model of amplification distortions in sequencing data sets, which we leverage to investigate the factors controlling the occurrence of PCR duplicates. We show that the PCR duplicate rate is determined primarily by the ratio between library complexity and sequencing depth, and that amplification noise (including in its dependence on the number of PCR cycles) only plays a secondary role for this artefact. We confirm our predictions using new and published RAD‐seq libraries and provide a method to estimate library complexity and amplification noise in any data set containing PCR duplicates. We discuss how amplification‐related artefacts impact downstream analyses, and in particular genotyping accuracy. The proposed framework unites the numerous observations made on PCR duplicates and will be useful to experimenters of all sequencing technologies where DNA availability is a concern.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Molecular Ecology Resources
Page Range / eLocation ID:
1299 to 1318
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Molecular ecologists seek to genotype hundreds to thousands of loci from hundreds to thousands of individuals at minimal cost per sample. Current methods, such as restriction‐site‐associatedDNAsequencing (RADseq) and sequence capture, are constrained by costs associated with inefficient use of sequencing data and sample preparation. Here, we introduceRADcap, an approach that combines the major benefits ofRADseq (low cost with specific start positions) with those of sequence capture (repeatable sequencing of specific loci) to significantly increase efficiency and reduce costs relative to current approaches.RADcap uses a new version of dual‐digestRADseq (3RAD) to identify candidateSNPloci for capture bait design and subsequently uses custom sequence capture baits to consistently enrich candidateSNPloci across many individuals. We combined this approach with a new library preparation method for identifying and removingPCRduplicates from 3RADlibraries, which allows researchers to processRADseq data using traditional pipelines, and we tested theRADcap method by genotyping sets of 96–384Wisteriaplants. Our results demonstrate that ourRADcap method: (i) methodologically reduces (to <5%) and allows computational removal ofPCRduplicate reads from data, (ii) achieves 80–90% reads on target in 11 of 12 enrichments, (iii) returns consistent coverage (≥4×) across >90% of individuals at up to 99.8% of the targeted loci, (iv) produces consistently high occupancy matrices of genotypes across hundreds of individuals and (v) costs significantly less than current approaches.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Many applications in molecular ecology require the ability to match specific DNA sequences from single‐ or mixed‐species samples with a diagnostic reference library. Widely used methods for DNA barcoding and metabarcoding employ PCR and amplicon sequencing to identify taxa based on target sequences, but the target‐specific enrichment capabilities of CRISPR‐Cas systems may offer advantages in some applications. We identified 54,837 CRISPR‐Cas guide RNAs that may be useful for enriching chloroplast DNA across phylogenetically diverse plant species. We tested a subset of 17 guide RNAs in vitro to enrich plant DNA strands ranging in size from diagnostic DNA barcodes of 1,428 bp to entire chloroplast genomes of 121,284 bp. We used an Oxford Nanopore sequencer to evaluate sequencing success based on both single‐ and mixed‐species samples, which yielded mean chloroplast sequence lengths of 2,530–11,367 bp, depending on the experiment. In comparison to mixed‐species experiments, single‐species experiments yielded more on‐target sequence reads and greater mean pairwise identity between contigs and the plant species' reference genomes. But nevertheless, these mixed‐species experiments yielded sufficient data to provide ≥48‐fold increase in sequence length and better estimates of relative abundance for a commercially prepared mixture of plant species compared to DNA metabarcoding based on the chloroplasttrnL‐P6 marker. Prior work developed CRISPR‐based enrichment protocols for long‐read sequencing and our experiments pioneered its use for plant DNA barcoding and chloroplast assemblies that may have advantages over workflows that require PCR and short‐read sequencing. Future work would benefit from continuing to develop in vitro and in silico methods for CRISPR‐based analyses of mixed‐species samples, especially when the appropriate reference genomes for contig assembly cannot be known a priori.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling—the detection of genetic material in the environment to infer species presence—has rapidly grown as a tool for sampling aquatic animal communities. A potentially powerful feature of environmental sampling is that all taxa within the habitat shed DNA and so may be detectable, creating opportunity for whole‐community assessments. However, animal DNA in the environment tends to be comparatively rare, making it necessary to enrich for genetic targets from focal taxa prior to sequencing. Current metabarcoding approaches for enrichment rely on bulk amplification using conserved primer annealing sites, which can result in skewed relative sequence abundance and failure to detect some taxa because of PCR bias. Here, we test capture enrichment via hybridization as an alternative strategy for target enrichment using a series of experiments on environmental samples and laboratory‐generated, known‐composition DNA mixtures. Capture enrichment resulted in detecting multiple species in both kinds of samples, and postcapture relative sequence abundance accurately reflected initial relative template abundance. However, further optimization is needed to permit reliable species detection at the very low‐DNA quantities typical of environmental samples (<0.1 ng DNA). We estimate that our capture protocols are comparable to, but less sensitive than, current PCR‐based eDNA analyses.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract Motivation

    Current technologies for single-cell DNA sequencing require whole-genome amplification (WGA), as a single cell contains too little DNA for direct sequencing. Unfortunately, WGA introduces biases in the resulting sequencing data, including non-uniformity in genome coverage and high rates of allele dropout. These biases complicate many downstream analyses, including the detection of genomic variants.


    We show that amplification biases have a potential upside: long-range correlations in rates of allele dropout provide a signal for phasing haplotypes at the lengths of amplicons from WGA, lengths which are generally longer than than individual sequence reads. We describe a statistical test to measure concurrent allele dropout between single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) across multiple sequenced single cells. We use results of this test to perform haplotype assembly across a collection of single cells. We demonstrate that the algorithm predicts phasing between pairs of SNPs with higher accuracy than phasing from reads alone. Using whole-genome sequencing data from only seven neural cells, we obtain haplotype blocks that are orders of magnitude longer than with sequence reads alone (median length 10.2 kb versus 312 bp), with error rates <2%. We demonstrate similar advantages on whole-exome data from 16 cells, where we obtain haplotype blocks with median length 9.2 kb—comparable to typical gene lengths—compared with median lengths of 41 bp with sequence reads alone, with error rates <4%. Our algorithm will be useful for haplotyping of rare alleles and studies of allele-specific somatic aberrations.

    Availability and implementation

    Source code is available at

    Supplementary information

    Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Promoters and the noncoding sequences that drive their function are fundamental aspects of genes that are critical to their regulation. The transcription preinitiation complex binds and assembles on promoters where it facilitates transcription. The transcription start site (TSS) is located downstream of the promoter sequence and is defined as the location in the genome where polymerase begins transcribing DNA into RNA. Knowing the location of TSSs is useful for annotation of genes, identification of non‐coding sequences important to gene regulation, detection of alternative TSSs, and understanding of 5′ UTR content. Several existing techniques make it possible to accurately identify TSSs, but are often difficult to perform experimentally, require large amounts of input RNA, or are unable to identify a large number of TSSs from a single sample. Many of these protocols take advantage of template switching reverse transcriptases (TSRTs), which reliably place an adaptor at the 5′ end of a first strand synthesis of cDNA. Here, we introduce a protocol that exploits TSRT activity combined with rolling circle amplification to identify TSSs with several unique advantages over existing methods. Sequence adaptors are placed on the 5′ and 3′ end of the full‐length cDNA copy of a transcript. A splint compatible with those adaptors is then used to circularize the full‐length cDNA. Linear DNA containing concatemers of the cDNA are generated using rolling circle amplification, and a sequencing library is formed by fragmenting the concatemers. This protocol is straightforward to execute, requiring limited bench time with relatively stable reagents. Using extremely low amounts of RNA input, this protocol produces large numbers of accurate, deduplicated TSSs genome wide. © 2023 The Authors. Current Protocols published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.

    Basic Protocol 1: Splint generation

    Basic Protocol 2: RNA extraction

    Basic Protocol 3: cDNA synthesis

    Basic Protocol 4: cDNA circularization and amplification

    Basic Protocol 5: Library generation

    more » « less