Spotlight on:
Kary Mullis

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)


Until the mid-1980s, the only way to make many copies of DNA was to insert the DNA pieces into bacteria and select the desired one from many different colonies growing on a plate. In 1985, Kary Mullis (shown at right) invented a precise and radical new method of selecting and amplifying a section of DNA – the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The revelation came to this eccentric character on a drive in northern California.

Watch a Kary Mullis video:

Or, read more about the man behind the technique:

(These clips are also found on the DNA Interactive website under Manipulation > Techniques > Amplifying.)

PCR Animations


There is a reason our PCR animation is our most watched ever; the polymerase chain reaction is challenging to describe in anything but a moving image. After you step through the process, check out the graph to fully grasp how quickly DNA can be amplified.

The 3-D version of PCR puts you right down in the eppendorf tube! No glasses required.

PCR Protocols


Polymerase chain reaction is a featured technique in several DNALC-developed laboratory protocols. The protocols are available online and for download on several sites: Lab Center includes laboratory pre-activity and follow-up materials including video introduction, background, educational correlations, further exploration, teacher guides, and resources; DNALC Kits has several online protocols developed in collaboration with Carolina Biological Supply Company; Genetics Origins explores use of DNA fingerprints as a starting point in the study of human evolution; and Greenomes explores plant genetics and genome research.

Laboratory Protocol: Online Version(s) PDF Version(s)
Using Mitochondrial DNA Polymorphisms in Evolutionary and Forensic Biology Check mark Genetic Origins Check mark DNALC
Using an Alu Insertion Polymorphism to Study Human Populations or DNA Fingerprint: Alu Check mark DNALC Kits
Check mark Genetic Origins
Check mark Lab Center
Check mark DNALC Kits

Check mark Lab Center
Using a SNP to Predict Bitter Tasting Ability Check mark DNALC Kits Check mark DNALC Kits
Detecting Genetically Modified Foods by PCR Check mark DNALC Kits
Check mark Greenomes
Check mark DNALC Kits
Check mark Greenomes
Detecting a Jumping Gene in Arabidopsis Check mark DNALC Kits
Check mark Greenomes
Check mark DNALC Kits
Check mark Greenomes
Detecting a Transposon Tag in Corn Check mark Greenomes Check mark Greenomes
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