DNA Microarray Technology

What is a DNA microarray?

The DNA microarray is a tool used to determine whether the DNA from a particular individual contains a mutation in genes.

A DNA chip also called a DNA microarray, is an analytical tool consisting of many DNA fragments closely placed on a resin or glass substrate for detection of changes in expression of genes in samples. DNA microarrays are used in various research areas because they allow a comprehensive analysis of several hundred to several hundred thousand genes with a small amount of sample and in a comparatively short time. Many DNA microarrays, including 3D-Gene, are used in research aiming toward their practical use in clinical or industrial practice.

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What is a DNA microarray used for?

When they were first introduced, DNA microarrays were used only as a research tool. Scientists continue today to conduct large-scale population studies - for example, to determine how often individuals with a particular mutation actually develop breast cancer, or to identify the changes in gene sequences that are most often associated with particular diseases. This has become possible because, just as is the case for computer chips, very large numbers of 'features' can be put on microarray chips, representing a very large portion of the human genome.

Microarrays can also be used to study the extent to which certain genes are turned on or off in cells and tissues. In this case, instead of isolating DNA from the samples, RNA (which is a transcript of the DNA) is isolated and measured.

Today, DNA microarrays are used in clinical diagnostic tests for some diseases. Sometimes they are also used to determine which drugs might be best prescribed for particular individuals, because genes determine how our bodies handle the chemistry related to those drugs.With the advent of new DNA sequencing technologies, some of the tests for which microarrays were used in the past now use DNA sequencing instead. But microarray tests still tend to be less expensive than sequencing, so they may be used for very large studies, as well as for some clinical tests.

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How does a DNA microarray work?

To determine whether an individual possesses a mutation for a particular disease, a scientist first obtains a sample of DNA from the patient's blood as well as a control sample - one that does not contain a mutation in the gene of interest.

The researcher then denatures the DNA in the samples - a process that separates the two complementary strands of DNA into single-stranded molecules. The next step is to cut the long strands of DNA into smaller, more manageable fragments and then to label each fragment by attaching a fluorescent dye (there are other ways to do this, but this is one common method). The individual's DNA is labeled with green dye and the control - or normal - DNA is labeled with red dye. Both sets of labeled DNA are then inserted into the chip and allowed to hybridize - or bind - to the synthetic DNA on the chip.

If the individual does not have a mutation for the gene, both the red and green samples will bind to the sequences on the chip that represent the sequence without the mutation (the "normal" sequence).

If the individual does possess a mutation, the individual's DNA will not bind properly to the DNA sequences on the chip that represent the "normal" sequence but instead will bind to the sequence on the chip that represents the mutated DNA.

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