Caister Academic Press

PCR Template DNA

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The DNA in a PCR reaction comprises two types:
  1. the target sequence to be amplified
  2. the non-target DNA (also called the "burden" DNA
The amount of total DNA in a PCR has a marked effect on the outcome of a PCR procedure. Using too much total DNA results in packed DNA in the confined space of the reaction vessel and can lead to false priming and even poor DNA synthesis due to the obstructed diffusion of large Taq polymerase molecules. However the ratio of target DNA to burden DNA is also important. The concentration of the target DNA should be balanced with the number of cycles in the reaction. Using an elevated concentration of the target combined with the normal, or higher than normal, number of cycles can cause the accelerated accumulation of nonspecific products. The accumulation of nonspecific products is often observed in a reamplification PCR, when the high initial concentration of the PCR fragment is accompanied by a high number of cycles. Reducing the number of cycles may help. However, low concentrations of primer, target, Taq, and nucleotides are recommended as these generally ensure cleaner product and lower background.

Problems also occur when the ratio of the target DNA to the burden DNA is very low, for example the amplification of a 500 bp fragment from the human genome (1 to 6 x 106). A better ratio is between 1:1 and 1:1 x 104. A ratio of 1:1 is achieved in a reamplification reaction and a ratio of about 104 is achieved when amplifying from the Escherichia coli genome.

When the total amount of the DNA in a PCR reaction is extremely small, there is an increased likelihood of its loss owing to any conceivable cause (clotting, adsorption, chemical or enzymatic degradation). Furthermore, a small amount of target DNA leads to an increased risk from contaminating DNA from impurities on anything that can come into contact with the DNA solution. In this respect, both the DNA diluent, the dust floating in the air, exhalations and even particles of skin or hair from your body should not be disregarded, as these can carry both the DNA and the DNA-degrading substances. Nucleases are probably as the major cause of DNA degradation in a PCR procedure. They are abundant on the surface of the human skin and can be present everywhere else too. Mild autoclaving of the DNA diluent and everything that comes in regular, occasional, or accidental contact with buffers and solutions will destroy both the nucleases and comtaminating DNA. If you suspect problems of this nature, wear gloves, a surgeon's cap, and a face mask. Also, wash the working space with an oxidizing substance such as (6% H202).

from PCR Troubleshooting: The Essential Guide see also PCR Troubleshooting and Optimization: The Essential Guide

Further reading