Wednesday, April 22, 2020

What is Digital PCR Testing?

When listening to the news about the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19, you may have heard the term “PCR testing” used and wondered what it was. PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction. While that sounds intimidating, the term is not as complicated as it sounds. We just need to break down the component parts.

Chain reaction: a sequence of reactions caused by the product of a prior reaction.

Polymerase: refers to an enzyme in DNA that causes it to replicate.

A PCR test is one that takes a very small DNA sample (such as the genetic material within a virus) and quickly makes millions to billions of copies of it so it could be more easily studied and identified. This process is known as amplification. Samples can be taken from a variety of sources depending on the condition. For example, in coronavirus, samples can be taken from the upper nasal cavity.

Different PCR tests can be created depending on what genetic material is targeted by the test. It usually takes a few hours to do a PCR testing. The reason why it may take a week or more to get the results has to do with transportation time to the lab, preparation time, and a backlog of other samples that need to be tested. Some PCR tests can more quickly copy the genetic material and provide faster results.

Unlike standard PCR, digital PCR can partition a sample into thousands of reactions, some of which contain the molecule of interest and others of which do not. During amplification, the amount of target material from a particular person can be quantified as the process is measured in real time. In fact, the total number of positive reactions is directly proportional to the number of positive molecules in the sample.  As a result, a digital PCR coronavirus test can identify the viral load (amount of virus present) in a particular patient. This can better inform people on how contagious someone is.  It can also help detect rare mutations and genetically modified organisms.

Digital PCR avoids the undercounting of target molecules by applying a statistical modelling technique that makes is capable of analyzing complex mixtures. By increasing the volume of samples analyzed, digital PCP can identify rare individual targets, increasing sensitivity. Digital PCR is also more accurate and precise than standard PCR. Further, it does not require reference to an external reference standard. Discover the simplicity of digital PCR with

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