Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)- Principle, Procedure, Types, Applications and Animation

By | May 21, 2017

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is a powerful method for amplifying particular segments of DNA, distinct from cloning and propagation within the host cell. This procedure is carried out entirely biochemically, that is, in vitro. PCR was invented by Kary Mullis in 1983. He shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry with Michael Smith in 1993.

Principle of PCR

PCR uses the enzyme DNA polymerase that directs the synthesis of DNA from deoxynucleotide substrates on a single-stranded DNA template. DNA polymerase adds nucleotides to the 3` end of a custom-designed oligonucleotide when it is annealed to a longer template DNA. Thus, if a synthetic oligonucleotide is annealed to a single-stranded template that contains a region complementary to the oligonucleotide, DNA polymerase can use the oligonucleotide as a primer and elongate its 3` end to generate an extended region of double stranded DNA.

Procedure/Steps of PCR

  1. Denaturation

The DNA template is heated to 94° C. This breaks the weak hydrogen bonds that hold DNA strands together in a helix, allowing the strands to separate creating single stranded DNA.

  1. Annealing

The mixture is cooled to anywhere from 50-70° C. This allows the primers to bind (anneal) to their complementary sequence in the template DNA.

  1. Extension

The reaction is then heated to 72° C, the optimal temperature for DNA polymerase to act. DNA polymerase extends the primers, adding nucleotides onto the primer in a sequential manner, using the target DNA as a template.

With one cycle, a single segment of double-stranded DNA template is amplified into two separate pieces of double-stranded DNA. These two pieces are then available for amplification in the next cycle. As the cycles are repeated, more and more copies are generated and the number of copies of the template is increased exponentially.

Types of PCR

  1. Real-time PCR
  2. Quantitative real time PCR (Q-RT PCR)
  3. Reverse Transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR)
  4. Multiplex PCR
  5. Nested PCR
  6. Long-range PCR
  7. Single-cell PCR
  8. Fast-cycling PCR
  9. Methylation-specific PCR (MSP)
  10. Hot start PCR
  11. High-fidelity PCR
  12. In situ PCR
  13. Variable Number of Tandem Repeats (VNTR) PCR
  14. Asymmetric PCR
  15. Repetitive sequence-based PCR
  16. Overlap extension PCR
  17. Assemble PCR
  18. Intersequence-specific PCR(ISSR)
  19. Ligation-mediated PCR
  20. Methylation –specifin PCR
  21. Miniprimer PCR
  22. Solid phase PCR
  23. Touch down PCR, etc

Applications of PCR

  1. PCR is used in analyzing clinical specimens for the presence of infectious agents, including HIV, hepatitis, malaria, anthrax, etc.
  2. PCR can provide information on a patient’s prognosis, and predict response or resistance to therapy. Many cancers are characterized by small mutations in certain genes, and this is what PCR is employed to identify.
  3. PCR is used in the analysis of mutations that occur in many genetic diseases (e.g. cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anaemia, phenylketonuria, muscular dystrophy).
  4. PCR is also used in forensics laboratories and is especially useful because only a tiny amount of original DNA is required, for example, sufficient DNA can be obtained from a droplet of blood or a single hair.
  5. PCR is an essential technique in cloning procedure which allows generation of large amounts of pure DNA from tiny amount of template strand and further study of a particular gene.
  6. The Human Genome Project (HGP) for determining the sequence of the 3 billion base pairs in the human genome, relied heavily on PCR.
  7. PCR has been used to identify and to explore relationships among species in the field of evolutionary biology. In anthropology, it is also used to understand the ancient human migration patterns. In archaeology, it has been used to spot the ancient human race. PCR commonly used by Paleontologists to amplify DNA from extinct species or cryopreserved fossils of millions years and thus can be further studied to elucidate on.


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