Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts 02543, USA.
Nanoplanktonic protists are comprised of a diverse assemblage of species which are responsible for a variety of trophic processes in marine and freshwater ecosystems. Current methods for identifying small protists by electron microscopy do not readily permit both identification and enumeration of nanoplanktonic protists in field samples. Thus, one major goal in the application of molecular approaches in protistan ecology has been the detection and quantification of individual species in natural water samples. Sequences of small subunit ribosomal RNA (SSU rRNA) genes have proven to be useful towards achieving this goal. Comparison of sequences from clone libraries of protistan SSU rRNA genes amplified from natural assemblages of protists by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can be used to examine protistan diversity. Furthermore, oligonucleotide probes complementary to short sequence regions unique to species of small protists can be designed by comparative analysis of rRNA gene sequences. These probes may be used to either detect the RNA of particular species of protists in total nucleic acid extracts immobilized on membranes, or the presence of target species in water samples via in situ hybridization of whole cells. Oligonucleotide probes may also serve as primers for the selective amplification of target sequences from total population DNA by PCR. Thus, molecular sequence information is becoming increasingly useful for identifying and enumerating protists, and for studying their spatial and temporal distribution in nature. Knowledge of protistan species composition, abundance and variability in an environment can ultimately be used to relate community structure to various aspects of community function and biogeochemical activity.
J Eukaryot Microbiol. 1996 Mar-Apr;43(2):101-6.