The analysis of microbial communities in environmental samples requires accurate and reproducible methods for extraction of DNA from sample matrices that have different physical and chemical characteristics. Even with the same sample type, variations in laboratory methods can result in different DNA yields. To circumvent this problem, we have developed an easy and inexpensive way to normalize the quantities of DNA that involves the addition of an internal standard prepared from plasmid DNA. The method was evaluated by comparing DNA yields using different DNA extraction procedures, after which the DNA was used for microbial community analysis by PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (PCR-DGGE) of 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) and for quantification of 16S rRNA gene copy numbers in environmental samples by real-time PCR. Our results show that use of the internal standard allows normalization of the resulting data and more accurate quantification of gene copy numbers in soil samples. These methods should also have broad application for various other types of environmental samples.
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