The field of molecular biology witnessed a groundbreaking revolution with the invention of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) in the 1980s. PCR is a technique used to amplify small segments of DNA, making it possible to generate thousands to millions of copies of a particular DNA sequence. This innovation has transformed various fields, including medicine, forensic science, and animal health. This blog will explore the history and development of PCR, its principles and methods, and its critical applications in the realm of animal health today.

The History and Development of PCR

PCR was conceptualized by Kary Mullis in 1983, who later received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993 for this invention. Before PCR, scientists faced significant challenges in studying DNA due to the difficulty of obtaining sufficient quantities for analysis. Mullis’s idea was to use a pair of primers to flank the target DNA sequence and employ a heat-stable DNA polymerase to replicate the DNA in vitro. This process, when repeated over many cycles, could exponentially amplify the target DNA segment.

Key Milestones in PCR Development:

Initial Concept and Proof of Principle (1983-1985): Mullis’s initial experiments demonstrated that DNA could be amplified using repeated cycles of denaturation, annealing, and extension. The original polymerase used, however, was not heat-stable and required replenishment after each cycle.

Introduction of Taq Polymerase (1985): The discovery of Thermus aquaticus, a bacterium found in hot springs, provided a solution to the polymerase problem. Taq polymerase, derived from this bacterium, could withstand the high temperatures required for DNA denaturation, revolutionizing the PCR process.

Automation and Commercialization (Late 1980s): The development of thermal cyclers, machines that automatically cycle through the necessary temperature changes, made PCR more accessible and standardized. Companies like Cetus Corporation and later Roche began commercializing PCR kits, making the technology widely available.

Principles and Methods of PCR

PCR is a relatively straightforward yet powerful technique involving three main steps, repeated for 20-40 cycles:

Denaturation: The double-stranded DNA is heated to around 94-98°C to separate it into two single strands.

Annealing: The temperature is lowered to 50-65°C, allowing primers to bind to the complementary sequences on the single-stranded DNA.

Extension: The temperature is raised to 72°C, the optimal working temperature for Taq polymerase, which extends the primers to form a new strand of DNA.

Each cycle doubles the amount of target DNA, leading to exponential amplification. This process requires several key components: the DNA template, primers, Taq polymerase, nucleotides, and a buffer solution.

Applications of PCR in Animal Health

PCR has become an indispensable tool in animal health, offering precise, rapid, and sensitive detection of various pathogens and genetic conditions. Its applications in this field are vast and continually expanding.

Disease Diagnosis

One of the primary uses of PCR in animal health is the diagnosis of infectious diseases. PCR allows for the early detection of pathogens, often before clinical symptoms appear. This capability is crucial for controlling outbreaks and implementing timely treatment measures.


Viral Infections: PCR is used to detect viruses such as Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus (FMDV), Avian Influenza Virus (AIV), and Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV). Early detection through PCR helps in the rapid isolation and management of infected animals.

Bacterial Infections: Diseases like bovine tuberculosis, caused by Mycobacterium bovis, and Johne’s disease, caused by Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, can be identified through PCR, facilitating better control and prevention strategies.

Genetic Testing and Breeding

PCR plays a crucial role in genetic testing, which is vital for animal breeding programs. By identifying genetic markers linked to desirable traits or hereditary diseases, breeders can make informed decisions to improve herd health and productivity.


Genetic Disorders: Conditions like bovine leukocyte adhesion deficiency (BLAD) and porcine stress syndrome (PSS) can be diagnosed through PCR-based genetic testing, enabling breeders to select against these traits.

Trait Selection: PCR is used to identify genes associated with milk production, growth rates, and disease resistance, helping enhance these traits through selective breeding.

Surveillance and Biosecurity

PCR aids in the surveillance of zoonotic diseases—those that can be transmitted between animals and humans. By monitoring and identifying zoonotic pathogens, PCR contributes to biosecurity measures, protecting both animal and human health.


Rabies: PCR is used to detect rabies virus in wildlife and domestic animals, aiding in the prevention of outbreaks.

Zoonotic Influenza: Surveillance of influenza strains in pigs and birds using PCR helps predict and prevent potential human pandemics.

Future Prospects and Challenges

While PCR has revolutionized animal health diagnostics, several challenges and future prospects exist.


False Positives/Negatives: Despite its sensitivity, PCR can sometimes yield false results due to contamination or technical errors.

Cost and Accessibility: The cost of PCR equipment and reagents can be prohibitive for some veterinary practices, especially in low-resource settings.

Technical Expertise: Proper training is required to perform and interpret PCR results accurately.

Future Prospects

Real-Time PCR (qPCR): The development of quantitative PCR allows for the measurement of DNA amounts in real time, providing more detailed information about pathogen load and gene expression.

Portable PCR Devices: Advances in technology are leading to the creation of portable PCR devices, enabling field diagnostics and real-time surveillance.

Integration with Other Technologies: Combining PCR with next-generation sequencing (NGS) and CRISPR technology promises to enhance diagnostic capabilities and genetic research in animal health.


The invention of PCR has been a transformative force in molecular biology, with profound implications for animal health. From diagnosing infectious diseases to enabling genetic testing and surveillance, PCR continues to be a cornerstone of modern veterinary science. As technology advances, PCR’s role is set to expand further, offering new possibilities for improving animal health and welfare.

By exploring the development, principles, and diverse applications of PCR, we can appreciate its monumental impact on animal health and anticipate its continued evolution in the years to come.

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