Category Archives: Molecular Biology

DNA Sequencing Methods


While DNA-sequencing methods are diverse and complex they can be grouped into three categories which share several common features: 1. DNA Fragmentation, 2. Fragment Amplification, 3. Sequencing via Fluorescent-Synthesis. These categories are:
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PCR Mutagenesis: Overlap Extension


Polymerase Chain-Reaction (PCR) has become the backbone of most Methods in Molecular Biology and site-specific mutagenesis no exception. The key to PCR-based mutation of DNA is careful design of primers. In the simplest case, a point-mutation can be inserted into all PCR products by adding a point mutation to all primers. Unfortunately, for linear DNA, this method only works for mutagenesis at the ends of the template (where the primers bind).

Overlap extension, is a powerful 2-step, multi-PCR technique that can insert mutations at any position and of any size (including whole deletions or insertions). It accomplished this using chimeric primers to (1) cut out pieces of DNA and (2) reassemble them at overlap points:
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Model Organisms and DNA’s “Molecular Clock”


“Model organisms” are the best-studied organisms in experimental biology. For a particular research questions a specific “model organism” is chosen for its balance of: (1) ease of use and (2) “generalizability” of results. For example

  • unicellular organisms(e.g. bacteria and yeast): are used to answer questions in basic biochemistry or molecular biology;
  • invertebrates (e.g. worms and flys): are used to answer questions in genetics or embryonic development
  • vertebrates (e.g. zebrafish to primates): are used in models of human disease (as they have requisite physiological and neurological complexity)

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The Maximal “Rate” of Evolution


The timescales over which organisms “mutate” or “evolve” varies dramatically from months(viruses) to millions of years(animals). The figure above plots the average genome size in base-pairs (x-axis) versus the average mutation-rate(y-axis) for various organisms. In addition, a second y-axis (“minimum time to 1% mutation”) illustrate approximate timescales corresponding to each rate.

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Introduction to RT-PCR (gene/mRNA expression)


Quantitiative Reverse-Transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR) is different from regular PCR in that it does not measure genes(i.e. DNA) per se but rather measures the EXPRESSION of those gene (i.e. mRNA). Given the fact gene expression (mRNA) can vary dramatically between cell-types, it is important to first isolate a single cell-type by:

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Introduction to PCR and Animal Genotyping


In a follow up to our overview on DNA methods, we wanted to discuss PCR (polymerase chain reaction) which is one of the most sensitive and versatile techniques in molecular biology. PCR is a technique which selectively amplifies any targeted DNA from a complex mixture based on a set of framing primers. These primers are ~20 base oligonucleotides which we can (1) design based on a sequenced genome and (2) make/order based on solid-phase chemical synthesis. PCR has many applications (see partial list below) but is to test for a particular gene/mutation (i.e. “genotype”) in an animal (see figure above).

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Introduction to the “Family Tree” of DNA Methods


Many methods in molecular biology are simply different combinations of a handful of techniques. These combinations can be represented as a “family tree” whose “trunk”/”backbone” is PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and whose “roots”/”foundation” is built upon: (1) chemical synthesis of short oligonucleotides, (2) fully sequenced genomes and (3) vectors derived from bacteria and viruses.

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