U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Forensic Science International 223 (2012) 292–297; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.10.003


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and United States Army Research Institute for Infectious Diseases have developed real-time PCR assays for the detection of bioterrorism threat agents. These assays all rely on a limited number of approved real-time PCR master mixes. Because the availability of these reagents is a critical element of bioterrorism preparedness, we undertook a joint national preparedness exercise to address the potential surge needs resulting from a large-scale bio-emergency. We identified 9 commercially-available potential alternatives to an existing approved master mix (LightCycler FastStart DNA Master HybProbes): the TaqMan Fast Universal PCR master mix, OmniMix HS, FAST qPCR master mix, EXPRESS qPCR SuperMix kit, QuantiFast Probe PCR kit, LightCycler FastStart DNA MasterPLUS HybProbe, Brilliant II FAST qPCR master mix, ABsolute Fast QPCR Mix and the HotStart IT Taq master mix. The performances of these kits were evaluated by the use of real-time PCR assays for four bioterrorism threat agents: Bacillus anthracis, Brucella melitensis, Burkholderia mallei and Francisella tularensis. The master mixes were compared for target-specific detection levels, as well as consistency of results among three different real-time PCR platforms (LightCycler, SmartCycler and 7500 Fast Dx). Realtime PCR analysis revealed that all ten kits performed well for agent detection on the 7500 Fast Dx instrument; however, the QuantiFast Probe PCR kit yielded the most consistently positive results across multiple real-time PCR platforms. We report that certain combinations of commonly used master mixes and instruments are not as reliable as others at detecting low concentrations of target DNA. Furthermore, our study provides laboratories the option to select from the commercial kits we evaluated to suit their preparedness needs.