DNA Extraction Methods Explained
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Published On: March 23rd, 2021Categories: Articles, PCR/DNA Extraction and Purification

While DNA extraction methods have been around for over 150 years, ever since Friedrich Miescher isolated it for the first time in 1869, countless iterations of DNA extraction protocols have occurred since then. Different lab extraction systems are used depending on the type of cell, how the cells have been preserved (e.g., in formalin versus freshly harvested from living tissue), and the purpose of extracting the DNA.

DNA Extraction Protocols

Despite the seemingly endless variants to DNA extraction methods, in reality, all methods use three basic steps in every lab extraction system. Regardless of the specifics, each method requires that you:

  • First break the integrity of the cell membrane in animal cells or the cell wall in plant cells and most bacteria. This is done with enzymes, chemicals, or mechanical disruption.
  • Next, once the outer cellular membrane is disrupted, the second step requires you to lyse the nuclear membrane inside of which is the DNA. To do this, you can use enzymes or chemicals.
  • In the third and final step, various separation techniques are used to separate the various components of your cells, including the sought-after DNA.

The Two Primary DNA Extraction Methods

Regardless of which specific method is employed, you will either use a chemical-based or solid-phase DNA extraction technique. In the chemical-based method, organic-based and inorganic-based chemicals are used. Lab extraction systems that use phenol, chloroform, and isoamyl alcohol (PCI) are regarded as the best DNA extraction protocols of all, but due to the harmful nature of the organic chemicals, this method is restricted. The use of automated machines, however, allows you to perform the gold standard of DNA extraction methods (i.e., PCI) safely and rapidly.

Proteinase K and salt are the most popular inorganic chemicals used for DNA extraction. While salt can be used alone to extract DNA, more commonly it is used in combination with proteinase K, Tris, EDTA, and other chemicals.

DNA extraction methods that use a solid-phase protocol have become more popular lately. Very often, silica is used to bind the DNA during the extraction procedure making it easier to isolate the DNA from the rest of the cellular debris.

A relatively new DNA extraction method is the use of  magnetic beads that bind the DNA. Wash and extraction buffers are used to clean and ultimately elute the DNA from the magnetic beads.  The advantages, however, of this technique includes a lower cost, shorter procedure time, and no need to use dangerous chemicals.

Which DNA Extraction Method is Best?

There is no simple or single answer to this question. The DNA extraction protocol you should choose for your laboratory depends on factors such as the quantity of DNA to be extracted, the purity of the DNA needed, the time and cost of the particular DNA extraction method chosen, and the size of the original sample needed to obtain the necessary final product. One way to ensure consistency, high productivity, and low long-term cost is by using automation whenever possible in your lab extraction systems.

By using automated systems, modern DNA extraction methods have become more efficient, safe, inexpensive, and commonplace in the science and pharmaceutical laboratory. It has even been suggested that in the future, the best scientist will have to know a combination of science expertise and engineering to maximize the use of robotics and laboratory automation.

How can a laboratory determine which DNA extraction method is most suitable for their specific needs, considering factors such as DNA quantity, purity requirements, and overall cost-effectiveness?

Laboratories must carefully assess their requirements, weighing factors like desired DNA yield, purity, extraction time, and cost constraints when selecting the optimal extraction method. Conducting thorough evaluations of available methods and considering long-term operational efficiencies, including the potential for automation, can help laboratories make informed decisions.

What are the key advantages and limitations of chemical-based versus solid-phase DNA extraction methods, and how can laboratories balance considerations of effectiveness, safety, and resource efficiency in choosing between these approaches?

Chemical-based methods, such as PCI extraction, offer high yields and purity but may pose safety concerns due to the use of hazardous organic solvents. In contrast, solid-phase methods, like magnetic bead extraction, provide a safer and faster alternative with lower costs, although they may yield slightly lower DNA quantities. Laboratories should evaluate these factors alongside their specific application requirements to determine the most appropriate method.

In what ways can laboratory automation enhance DNA extraction processes, and how should decision-makers assess the benefits of incorporating automated systems into their workflow to maximize efficiency and productivity?

Automated systems offer increased throughput, reproducibility, and safety in DNA extraction, reducing manual labor and minimizing human error. Decision-makers should evaluate factors such as initial investment costs, ongoing maintenance, and compatibility with existing workflows to determine the feasibility and potential returns on investment of implementing automation technologies.

Contact us today to request a consultation or to learn more about our host of products to assist you with your current DNA extraction methods or to learn about new options for your laboratory needs.