DNA, RNA, and Chromosomes

What is polymerase chain reaction?

Polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, is a laboratory technique that amplifies or copies any piece of DNA very quickly without using cells. The DNA is incubated in a test tube with a special kind of DNA polymerase, a supply of nucleotides, and short pieces of synthetic single-strand DNA that serve a primers for DNA synthesis. With automation, PCR can make billions of copies of a particular segment of DNA in a few hours. Each cycle of the PCR procedure takes only about five minutes. At the end of the cycle, the DNA segment—even one with hundreds of base pairs—has been doubled. A PCR machine repeats the cycle over and over. PCR is much faster than the days it takes to clone a piece of DNA by making a recombinant plasmid and letting it replicate within bacteria.

PCR was developed by the biochemist Kary Mullis (1944–) in 1983 while working for Cetus Corporation, a California biotechnology firm. In 1993, Mullis won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing PCR.


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