Research Paper

Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 406, Issue 6, pp 1701-1712

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Evaluation of droplet digital PCR for characterizing plasmid reference material used for quantifying ammonia oxidizers and denitrifiers

  • Lianhua DongAffiliated withNational Institute of Metrology Email author 
  • , Ying MengAffiliated withHubei Institute of Measurement and Testing Technology
  • , Jing WangAffiliated withNational Institute of Metrology
  • , Yingying LiuAffiliated withNational Institute of Metrology


DNA reference materials of certified value have a critical function in many analytical processes of DNA measurement. Quantification of amoA genes in ammonia oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and archaea (AOA), and of nirS and nosZ genes in the denitrifiers is very important for determining their distribution and abundance in the natural environment. A plasmid reference material containing nirS, nosZ, amoA-AOB, and amoA-AOA is developed to provide a DNA standard with copy number concentration for ensuring comparability and reliability of quantification of these genes. Droplet digital PCR (ddPCR) was evaluated for characterization of the plasmid reference material. The result revealed that restriction endonuclease digestion of plasmids can improve amplification efficiency and minimize the measurement bias of ddPCR. Compared with the conformation of the plasmid, the size of the DNA fragment containing the target sequence and the location of the restriction site relative to the target sequence are not significant factors affecting plasmid quantification by ddPCR. Liquid chromatography–isotope dilution mass spectrometry (LC–IDMS) was used to provide independent data for quantifying the plasmid reference material. The copy number concentration of the digested plasmid determined by ddPCR agreed well with that determined by LC–IDMS, improving both the accuracy and reliability of the plasmid reference material. The reference value, with its expanded uncertainty (k = 2), of the plasmid reference material was determined to be (5.19 ± 0.41) × 109 copies μL−1 by averaging the results of two independent measurements. Consideration of the factors revealed in this study can improve the reliability and accuracy of ddPCR; thus, this method has the potential to accurately quantify DNA reference materials.


Plasmid DNA reference material Droplet digital PCR Isotope dilution mass spectrometry Ammonia oxidizer Denitrifier