Oligonucleotides, from the Greek word oligo meaning "few," are short pieces of DNA or RNA that are 2 to 30 nucleotides long. The ability to synthesize DNA oligonucleotides of a known sequence is incredibly important and useful. A DNA probe is used to analyze fragments of DNA. A DNA probe is a single-stranded fragment of DNA that recognizes and binds to a complementary section of DNA in a mixture of DNA molecules.
DNA probes can be synthesized and DNA fragments can be prepared for use in molecular techniques such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Polymerase chain reaction is a technique that was developed by Kary Mullis in 1985. It pro-
duces large quantities of a DNA fragment without needing a living cell. Starting with one small piece of DNA, PCR can make billions of copies in a few hours. These large quantities of DNA can be easily analyzed.
PCR and DNA probes have been of great value to the areas of molecular biology, medicine, and biotechnology. Using these tools, scientists can detect the DNA associated with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), Lyme disease, chlamy-dia, tuberculosis, hepatitis, HPV (human papilloma virus), cystic fibrosis, muscular distrophy, and Huntington's disease.
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