Karry Mullis

Dr. Kary Mullis, inventor of PCR technique, dies

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Dr. Kary Mullis, inventor of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), recently died at the age of 74. His invention of PCR changed the course of life sciences industry almost 40 years ago.

PCR, as it is commonly called, stands for Polymerase Chain reaction, is a technique used to amplify and make millions of copies of DNA. These, millions of copies, allow researchers to read DNA Sequences underlying in genes.

In his article, published in The Scientist in 2003, Mullis described his first attempt to PCR as”

a long-shot experiment. I agreed, so [at midnight] I poured myself a cold Becks into a prechilled 500 ml beaker from the isotope freezer for luck and went home.I ran a gel the next afternoon [and] stained it with ethidium. It took several months to arrive at conditions [that] would produce a convincing result.”

Dr. Kary B Mullis

Both Science and Nature rejected the resulting manuscript, which was ultimately published in Methods in Enzymology in 1987. At that time, Mullis was working with Cetus Corporation in California.

PCR Invention: Note from Karry Mullis notebook
The document from Karry Mullis notebook indicating his first PCR reaction mixture
Adapted from : The Scientist

Impact of PCR invention

What Mullis did, had a great impact on the studies of genes. It bought a revolution in all areas of Life sciences. With PCR invention, his efforts to amplify a selective region anywhere in complete DNA sequence, helped the researchers to focus their studies on a target region.

By the time PCR invention was done, Sanger had already established the DNA Sequencing method it helped in the designing on primers needed for PCR. By 1990, many labs have adopted the use of PCR to study various diseases.

PCR invention led to development of first thermal cycler in 1987 by a joint venture between Cetus and Perkin Elmer, which could reduce the time of PCR reaction and producing desired number of copies. Now, any target gene could be amplified within few hours and sequenced to study the mutations.

PCR invention led to many advanced technologies and applications without which we cannot imagine today’s life sciences industry.

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From humans to plants to micro-organism, genetic studies of every organism relies heavily on PCR.

Next Generation Sequencing, which can sequence complete DNA sequence of any organism in a short time, relies on PCR as a key step.

Viral load testing, to detect number of copies of viruses such as HIV, HCV in patient, use PCR to amplify the viral genome that can be visualized and detected easily. It helps in monitoring the drug efficiency.

PCR helps in studying and identifying genetic mutations in humans. It is a core technology in the era of personalized medicine and medical genetics industry.

An updated version of PCR, known as Real Time PCR, uses a specific probe for target specific amplification and each step can be visualized in real time thus avoiding need to use second technology view PCR results.

New point of care devices, which reduces the time of detection of a large number of infectious diseases are made possible by PCR.

It indeed is a great loss for genetic industry but his name will echo as long as the life sciences industry will thrive.

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