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Nucleic Acids Res. 2009 Jul;37(13):e95. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkp443. Epub 2009 Jun 15.

A thermodynamic approach to PCR primer design.

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  • 1Department of Genome Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.


We developed a primer design method, Pythia, in which state of the art DNA binding affinity computations are directly integrated into the primer design process. We use chemical reaction equilibrium analysis to integrate multiple binding energy calculations into a conservative measure of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) efficiency, and a precomputed index on genomic sequences to evaluate primer specificity. We show that Pythia can design primers with success rates comparable with those of current methods, but yields much higher coverage in difficult genomic regions. For example, in RepeatMasked sequences in the human genome, Pythia achieved a median coverage of 89% as compared with a median coverage of 51% for Primer3. For parameter settings yielding sensitivities of 81%, our method has a recall of 97%, compared with the Primer3 recall of 48%. Because our primer design approach is based on the chemistry of DNA interactions, it has fewer and more physically meaningful parameters than current methods, and is therefore easier to adjust to specific experimental requirements. Our software is freely available at

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