Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) is widely used in microbial ecology to profile complex microbial communities over time and in response to different stimuli. However, inherent gel-to-gel variability has always been a barrier toward meaningful interpretation of DGGE profiles obtained from multiple gels. To address this problem, we developed a two-step methodology to align DGGE profiles across a large dataset. The use of appropriate inter-gel standards was of vital importance since they provided the basis for efficient within- and between-gel alignment and a reliable means to evaluate the final outcome of the process. Pretreatment of DGGE profiles by a commercially available image analysis software package (TL120 v2006, Phoretix 1D Advanced) followed by a simple interpolation step in Matlab minimized the effect of gel-to-gel variation, allowing for comparisons between large numbers of samples with a high degree of confidence. At the same time, data were obtained in the form of whole densitometric curves, rather than as band presence/absence or intensity information, and could be readily analyzed by a collection of well-established multivariate methods. This work clearly demonstrates that there is still room for significant improvements as to the way large DGGE datasets are processed and statistically interrogated.
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