In a process called "molecular combining," DNA molecules attached at one end to a solid surface were extended and aligned by a receding air-water interface and left to dry on the surface. Molecular combing was observed to extend the length of the bacteriophage lambda DNA molecule to 21.5 +/- 0.5 micrometers (unextended length, 16.2 micrometers). With the combing process, it was possible to (i) extend a chromosomal Escherichia coli DNA fragment (10(6) base pairs) and (ii) detect a minute quantity of DNA (10(3) molecules). These results open the way for a faster physical mapping of the genome and for the detection of small quantities of target DNA from a population of molecules.

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