Saturday, 14 September 2013

A stroll down Polymerase Chain Reaction lane

Dr Kary Mullis, 1993 Nobel prize winner and the co-creator of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR; I have aliottle on PCR over at PCR Down Under), walks down memory lane describing the process of those very early discoveries while working at Cetus Corporation.

You can check out the whole seminar here.

Some key points were:

  • PCR gets 41 million hits today
  • Created PCR in the Spring of 1983 as away of increasing the demand for oligonucleotides ("oligos")
  • Ron Cook developed the first automated oligonucleotide synthesizer machine that could create oligonucleotides in hours instead of weeks
  • Before PCR, the only way to examine a specific bit of human DNA was to clone it and such genetic modification of bacteria was a cause of concern in the early days
  • Speeding up the process of identifying genetic mutations was a driving factor behind the development of PCR
  • The target produced by exponential amplification resulting from binding and extension of two oligonucleotide "primers" binding to a template, would overwhelm any non-specific product
  • The original manuscript was knocked back by Nature and Science and ended up in Methods in Enzymology, after other's by Saiki et al, Saiki et al, and another by Saiki et al, a Symposium by Mullis also Saiki from Cetus were published. Lesson here for us all - write faster!
The Mullis story is an colourful one - as you can get a taste of from Wikipedia, his personal website, Cracked, virusmyth (describing his prior comments on HIV), this excerpt froMaking PCR: A Story of Biotechnology and his book Dancing naked in the mind field.

Thanks to John F Mackay (no relation except by All Black) of DNature, an Antipodean PCR historian (nerd), for pointing out the presentation and for discussion.