Indexed on: 05 Jan '12Published on: 05 Jan '12Published in: PloS one
Microsatellites are popular genetic markers in molecular ecology, genetic mapping and forensics. Unfortunately, despite recent advances, the isolation of de novo polymorphic microsatellite loci often requires expensive and intensive groundwork. Primers developed for a focal species are commonly tested in a related, non-focal species of interest for the amplification of orthologous polymorphic loci; when successful, this approach significantly reduces cost and time of microsatellite development. However, transferability of polymorphic microsatellite loci decreases rapidly with increasing evolutionary distance, and this approach has shown its limits. Whole genome sequences represent an under-exploited resource to develop cross-species primers for microsatellites. Here we describe a three-step method that combines a novel in silico pipeline that we use to (1) identify conserved microsatellite loci from a multiple genome alignments, (2) design degenerate primer pairs, with (3) a simple PCR protocol used to implement these primers across species. Using this approach we developed a set of primers for the mammalian clade. We found 126,306 human microsatellites conserved in mammalian aligned sequences, and isolated 5,596 loci using criteria based on wide conservation. From a random subset of ~1000 dinucleotide repeats, we designed degenerate primer pairs for 19 loci, of which five produced polymorphic fragments in up to 18 mammalian species, including the distinctly related marsupials and monotremes, groups that diverged from other mammals 120-160 million years ago. Using our method, many more cross-clade microsatellite loci can be harvested from the currently available genomic data, and this ability is set to improve exponentially as further genomes are sequenced.