Diagnostic DNA analysis using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has become a valuable tool for rapid detection of biothreat agents. However, analysis is often challenging because of the limited size, quality, and purity of the biological target. Pre-PCR processing is an integrated concept in which the issues of analytical limit of detection and simplicity for automation are addressed in all steps leading up to PCR amplification--that is, sampling, sample treatment, and the chemical composition of PCR. The sampling method should maximize target uptake and minimize uptake of extraneous substances that could impair the analysis--so-called PCR inhibitors. In sample treatment, there is a trade-off between yield and purity, as extensive purification leads to DNA loss. A cornerstone of pre-PCR processing is to apply DNA polymerase-buffer systems that are tolerant to specific sample impurities, thereby lowering the need for expensive purification steps and maximizing DNA recovery. Improved awareness among Laboratory Response Networks (LRNs) regarding pre-PCR processing is important, as ineffective sample processing leads to increased cost and possibly false-negative or ambiguous results, hindering the decision-making process in a bioterrorism crisis. This article covers the nature and mechanisms of PCR-inhibitory substances relevant for agroterrorism and bioterrorism preparedness, methods for quality control of PCR reactions, and applications of pre-PCR processing to optimize and simplify the analysis of various biothreat agents. Knowledge about pre-PCR processing will improve diagnostic capabilities of LRNs involved in the response to bioterrorism incidents.
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Industrial Biotechnology