PCR (in vitro DNA amplification)
Described as being to genes what Gutenberg's printing press was to the written word, PCR can amplify a desired DNA sequence of any origin (virus, bacteria, plant, or human) hundreds of millions of times in a matter of hours, a task that would have required several days with recombinant technology. PCR is especially valuable because the reaction is highly specific, easily automated, and capable of amplifying minute amounts of sample. For these reasons, PCR has also had a major impact on clinical medicine, genetic disease diagnostics, forensic science, and evolutionary biology.
PCR is a process based on a specialized polymerase enzyme, which can synthesize a complementary strand to a given DNA strand in a mixture containing the 4 DNA bases and 2 DNA fragments (primers, each about 20 bases long) flanking the target sequence. The mixture is heated to separate the strands of double- stranded DNA containing the target sequence and then cooled to allow (1) the primers to find and bind to their complementary sequences on the separated strands and (2) the polymerase to extend the primers into new complementary strands. Repeated heating and cooling cycles multiply the target DNA exponentially, since each new double strand separates to become two templates for further synthesis. In about 1 hour, 20 PCR cycles can amplify the target by a millionfold.