DNA Molecular Analysis
The sequence of a DNA molecule can help us identify an organism when compared to known sequences housed in a database. The sequence can also tell us something about the function of a particular part of the DNA, such as whether it encodes a particular protein. Comparing protein signatures—the expression levels of specific arrays of proteins—between samples is an important method for evaluating cellular responses to a multitude of environmental factors and stresses. Analysis of protein signatures can reveal the identity of an organism or how a cell is responding during disease.
The DNA and proteins of interest are microscopic and typically mixed in with many other molecules including DNA or proteins irrelevant to our interests. Many techniques have been developed to isolate and characterize molecules of interest. These methods were originally developed for research purposes, but in many cases they have been simplified to the point that routine clinical use is possible. For example, many pathogens, such as the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which causes stomach ulcers, can be detected using protein-based tests. In addition, an increasing number of highly specific and accurate DNA amplification-based identification assays can now detect pathogens such as antibiotic-resistant enteric bacteria, herpes simplex virus, varicella-zoster virus, and many others.
Molecular Analysis of DNA
In this subsection, we will outline some of the basic methods used for separating and visualizing specific fragments of DNA that are of interest to a scientist. Some of these methods do not require knowledge of the complete sequence of the DNA molecule. Before the advent of rapid DNA sequencing, these methods were the only ones available to work with DNA, but they still form the basic arsenal of tools used by molecular geneticists to study the body’s responses to microbial and other diseases.
Agarose Gel Electrophoresis
There are a number of situations in which a researcher might want to physically separate a collection of DNA fragments of different sizes. A researcher may also digest a DNA sample with a restriction enzyme to form fragments. The resulting size and fragment distribution pattern can often yield useful information about the sequence of DNA bases that can be used, much like a bar-code scan, to identify the individual or species to which the DNA belongs.
Gel electrophoresis is a technique commonly used to separate biological molecules based on size and biochemical characteristics, such as charge and polarity. Agarose gel electrophoresis is widely used to separate DNA (or RNA) of varying sizes that may be generated by restriction enzyme digestion or by other means, such as the PCR .
Due to its negatively charged backbone, DNA is strongly attracted to a positive electrode. In agarose gel electrophoresis, the gel is oriented horizontally in a buffer solution. Samples are loaded into sample wells on the side of the gel closest to the negative electrode, then drawn through the molecular sieve of the agarose matrix toward the positive electrode. The agarose matrix impedes the movement of larger molecules through the gel, whereas smaller molecules pass through more readily. Thus, the distance of migration is inversely correlated to the size of the DNA fragment, with smaller fragments traveling a longer distance through the gel. Sizes of DNA fragments within a sample can be estimated by comparison to fragments of known size in a DNA ladder also run on the same gel. To separate very large DNA fragments, such as chromosomes or viral genomes, agarose gel electrophoresis can be modified by periodically alternating the orientation of the electric field during pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). In PFGE, smaller fragments can reorient themselves and migrate slightly faster than larger fragments and this technique can thus serve to separate very large fragments that would otherwise travel together during standard agarose gel electrophoresis. In any of these electrophoresis techniques, the locations of the DNA or RNA fragments in the gel can be detected by various methods. One common method is adding ethidium bromide, a stain that inserts into the nucleic acids at non-specific locations and can be visualized when exposed to ultraviolet light. Other stains that are safer than ethidium bromide, a potential carcinogen, are now available. example safe green, safeview , Evagreen etc.