Resources for teaching the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)

The polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, is a biotechnology technique where we create millions of copies of a specific DNA sequence in vitro. (For more about the basics of PCR, check out our past blog post. There is a lot of preparation that goes into teaching PCR the first time each year (or semester). This post highlights the Edvotek resource that can help make your preparation and your teaching a breeze!

First, introduce your students to the basics of PCR using the Origami Organelle or multicolor pop beads. This helps students better visualize what happens at each stage of PCR. We recommend this video which talks about the process of PCR and the thermal cycler that makes it all possible!

We also like to emphasize the importance of each compound in the PCR sample — the Taq polymerase, the nucleotides, and the template and primers. This video explores each of the PCR components, and what happens when we leave one of them out.

After performing PCR, we analyze the results using agarose gel electrophoresis, a biotechnology technique that separates DNA fragments by size. For teaching resources that focus on electrophoresis, check out our past blog post (complete with lots of videos).

Once the experiment has been completed, we recommend debriefing with your students in a way that reinforces the concepts. One way to do this is through a mind map, or “a graphical way to represent connected ideas and concepts.” This blog post outlines the way to perform the exercise. We think this is a great addition to the lab report, or even as an extra credit assignment.

We hope this helps you with your next PCR experiment!