Comprehensive profiling of nucleic acids in genetically heterogeneous samples is important for clinical and basic research applications. Universal digital high-resolution melt (U-dHRM) is a new approach to broad-based PCR diagnostics and profiling technologies that can overcome issues of poor sensitivity due to contaminating nucleic acids and poor specificity due to primer or probe hybridization inaccuracies for single nucleotide variations. The U-dHRM approach uses broad-based primers or ligated adapter sequences to universally amplify all nucleic acid molecules in a heterogeneous sample, which have been partitioned, as in digital PCR. Extensive assay optimization enables direct sequence identification by algorithm-based matching of melt curve shape and Tm to a database of known sequence-specific melt curves. We show that single-molecule detection and single nucleotide sensitivity is possible. The feasibility and utility of U-dHRM is demonstrated through detection of bacteria associated with polymicrobial blood infection and microRNAs (miRNAs) associated with host response to infection. U-dHRM using broad-based 16S rRNA gene primers demonstrates universal single cell detection of bacterial pathogens, even in the presence of larger amounts of contaminating bacteria; U-dHRM using universally adapted Lethal-7 miRNAs in a heterogeneous mixture showcases the single copy sensitivity and single nucleotide specificity of this approach.
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