A Deep Dive Into the Technology of PCR Machines

Expanding on our previous Medical Lab Automation Machines Part 1, we dive into the technology of PCR machines.

The abbreviation PCR needs no introduction as it has become a part of today’s cultural lexicon due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indeed, the average person has likely taken one or numerous PCR tests for diagnosis of COVID-19 and is at least familiar with the nasal swab which is actually the front end of PCR technology.

PCR Sample Tray

However, what happens after the sample has been taken and how are results actually generated using the PCR technique? These questions are simple, yet important to understand how this technique extends well beyond the fields of medicine.

PCR stands for “Polymearse Chain Reaction” which is an intimidating definition that fortunately can be easily simplified. The scientific definition essentially describes a chemical technique to replicate and transcribe fragments of genetic material such as DNA and RNA.

The mechanics of the process start with a sample of genetic material and then various chemical and mechanical processes are performed on the nucleic acids contained within the sample. In these broad terms, the PCR process takes these fragments of nucleic acids such as DNA or RNA and copies, counts, and/or amplifies these genetic acids to create recognizable and fuller genetic models.

PCR Technology in use today

This broad and versatile technique is used in a wide range of industries. Here is an overview of some of the most common industries where PCR is making a big impact:

  • Genetic Research: PCR is an essential tool for genetic testing and research, including GMOs, genetic engineering, cloning, gene modification, transgenics, hybridization, synthetic biology, and directed evolution.
  • Consumer Genomics: PCR has opened doors for personalized genome testing, offering consumers custom products and services related to genome information. One example is “nutrigenomic,” which provides insights into how food consumption influences a person’s health condition.
  • Food & Agriculture: PCR enables GMO techniques to improve food production, including genetic manipulation and product development. Some common product development procedures include seed quality control and gene discovery and cloning.
  • Forensic Science: PCR is an important technology used in criminal identification and the collection of crime scene evidence. It allows DNA to be identified using a single molecule of DNA (a very tiny sample!).
  • Environmental Microbiology: PCR also plays a major role in understanding environmental issues. It can help detect microorganisms that are present in soil and water, as well as target microorganisms by species and strain. One example includes searching for pathogens in water supply.
  • Phylogenetics: PCR is being used to improve the study of evolutionary history by making it possible to take small fragments of DNA from very old sources, such as bones, to gain valuable insights into extinct animal populations.

To further illustrate using the COVID-19 example simply because it is one with which everyone is familiar, the PCR test takes a swab sample of mucous from your respiratory tract. The PCR process then uses the fragments of nucleic acids present in the sample (such as RNA) to translate the pieces back into the DNA from which they originated via a repetitive copying and magnification process. In this case, the test looks for transcribed DNA fragments that match the genetic sequence of the SARS-COV-2 virus.

COVID-19 Sample

PCR Machines

In simplest terms, a PCR machine a piece of industrial laboratory equipment that takes the sample of generic material and uses various chemical and mechanical processes to create many copies and amplifications of it many times.

The machines are quite literally magnification, duplication and counting machines for nucleic acids with the end goal of locating and/or synthesizing recognizable acids.

PCR Machines

The PCR machine is able to do these quickly and efficiently automates the mechanics of this process to quickly generate results. There are variations of PCR machines-called dPCR machines- that perform this exercise digitally as well as other machine variations, called real-time (qPCR) which are faster and easier to use than alternative techniques.

Notable Developers of PCR technology and related processes and equipment include: Abbott, Bio-Rad, Luminex, Applied Biosystems, Roche, Fluidigm, Qiagen, Quidel, and ABI are all some of the developers of this type of instrument.

Here are the most common MISUMI components that are used in PCR machines:

MISUMI configurable components power dozens of specialized medical lab equipment including PCR machines because MISUMI understands the complex needs of the medical and lab automation industry, for more information, visit our dedicated industry page here.

About the Author

Geoffrey Green

Geoffrey Green is currently an industry segment manager for the Medical Industry at MISUMI. His role involves developing strategies for how MISUMI's offering of products can be utilized in providing solutions for medical automation. Prior to his role as industry segment manager, Geoffrey worked as a sales engineer at MISUMI. In his sales role, he served the San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and focused entirely in the medical industry. During this 4 year period, Geoffrey became an expert assisting customers with their medical automation designs. Before taking on his roles at MISUMI, Geoffrey has worked in the plastic bearing, robotics, and solar industries and received his degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Colorado.

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