Direct rRNA fingerprinting, a novel method to profile low diversity microbial communities.
ABSTRACT In the past decade, an increasing number of methods in microbial ecology have been developed that address the questions of which microbes exist in the environment, what their roles are and, to some extent, what their abundance is. In the present paper, we propose and describe the proof of principle of a novel method for analysing shifts in microbial community composition that uses small RNA fragments directly derived from 16S rRNA. Community fingerprints are generated on the basis of sequence-dependent conformational differences of rRNA fragments. We applied this method to profile artificial and natural communities and to detect changes in community structure in enrichment cultures. This method constitutes a PCR-free alternative to microbial community characterisation and can provide information on the relative abundance of rRNA from individual phylotypes in low diversity samples.