DNA sequencing is the determination of the precise sequence of nucleotides in a sample of DNA.
The most popular method for doing this is called the dideoxy method.DNA is synthesized from four deoxynucleotide triphosphates. The top formula shows one of them: deoxythymidine triphosphate (dTTP). Each new nucleotide is added to the 3' OH group of the last nucleotide added.
|Link to discussion of DNA synthesis.|
|The bottom formula shows the structure of azidothymidine (AZT), a drug used to treat AIDS. AZT (which is also called zidovudine) is taken up by cells where it is converted into the triphosphate. The reverse transcriptase of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prefers AZT triphosphate to the normal nucleotide (dTTP). Because AZT has no 3' -OH group, DNA synthesis by reverse transcriptase halts when AZT triphosphate is incorporated in the growing DNA strand. Fortunately, the DNA polymerases of the host cell prefer dTTP, so side effects from the drug are not so severe as might have been predicted.|
Because all four normal nucleotides are present, chain elongation proceeds normally until, by chance, DNA polymerase inserts a dideoxy nucleotide (shown as colored letters) instead of the normal deoxynucleotide (shown as vertical lines). If the ratio of normal nucleotide to the dideoxy versions is high enough, some DNA strands will succeed in adding several hundred nucleotides before insertion of the dideoxy version halts the process.At the end of the incubation period, the fragments are separated by length from longest to shortest. The resolution is so good that a difference of one nucleotide is enough to separate that strand from the next shorter and next longer strand. Each of the four dideoxynucleotides fluoresces a different color when illuminated by a laser beam and an automatic scanner provides a printout of the sequence.
|If you wish to see a representative example of a DNA sequence (455 nucleotides of the lysU gene of E. coli) which was generated by an automated sequencing device, LINK HERE. (The file size is 172K.) (The image is courtesy of Pharmacia Biotech Inc., Piscataway, NJ.)|