|A DNA Down Under post|
Before PCR for virus detection from human samples, we usually prepare the nucleic acids with an extraction or purification step. The shorter this is the better when testing, or screening, a lot of samples.
PCR can be used to detect some viruses straight out of the box. In these cases, the viruses need to have genes or a genome that is made of DNA. But many viruses don't store their genetic code as DNA, they use RNA as the plan from which they make more of themselves and their viral proteins. In these cases, DNA only plays an intermediate role, if any.
DNA viruses include the adenoviruses, herpesviruses, HIV (an example which also has RNA stages), polyomaviruses, bocaviruses, parvoviruses, papillomaviruses, poxviruses, megaviruses and many others. PCR also works well for plasmids and human genes and other DNA fragments we want to work with in the lab for reasons other than a diagnosis where we ask if the virus is in the human or not.
RNA viruses include influenza viruses, parainfluenza viruses, rhinoviruses, enteroviruses, cosavirus, klasseviruses, parechoviruses, respiratory syncytial virus, coronaviruses, human metapneumovirus and also many others. We also look at gene activity which involves detecting and measuring gene/genome transcription via reverse transcriptase (RT) PCR-based quantification, usually of messenger RNA (mRNA). But because PCR is based around the use of a heat stable DNA-dependent DNA polymerase, we would need to first make that RNA into DNA so that the main enzyme can use it and duplicate it and make enough of it to detect or use in molecular biology...or whatever the downstream application may be.
To make a DNA copy of the RNA, we need to add in another enzyme and another step to the PCR process. That enzyme, the RT is used in a step called reverse transcription.
The addition of this step also changes the initialism of the technique to RT-PCR. This is not to be confused with real-time PCR which is shortened to rtPCR. So an RT-rtPCR, which we use when detecting or quantifying RNA viruses in human samples, is a reverse transcription real-time polymerase chain reaction.
A standard PCR then has added to it a 10-30min incubation at an appropriate temperature (40-50'C), a denaturation step to kill of the enzyme (and sometimes to active the DNA polymerase; 92-95'C for 2-15min) and separate any DNA that is double stranded, followed by the multi-cycle PCR amplification process which can use the new DNA strand as a template for exponential copying....the billion-fold amplification reaction.
- PCR primers...a primer!
- The mechanics of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR)...a primer
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