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PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51863. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051863. Epub 2012 Dec 17.

Recovery of small DNA fragments from serum using compaction precipitation.

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  • 1Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA.



While most nucleic acids are intracellular, trace amounts of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA), including micro RNAs, can also be found in peripheral blood. Many studies have suggested the potential utility of these circulating nucleic acids in prenatal diagnosis, early cancer detection, and the diagnosis of infectious diseases. However, DNA circulating in blood is usually present at very low concentrations (ng/ml), and is in the form of relatively small fragments (<1,000 bp), making its isolation challenging.


Here we report an improved method for the isolation of small DNA fragments from serum using selective precipitation by quaternary ammonium compaction agents. A 151 bp fragment of double-stranded DNA from the Escherichia coli bacteriophage lambda served as the model DNA in our experiments. DNA was serially diluted in serum until undetectable by conventional polymerase chain reaction (PCR), before being enriched by compaction precipitation.


Starting with concentrations two to three orders of magnitude lower than the PCR-detectable level (0.01 ng/ml), we were able to enrich the DNA to a detectable level using a novel compaction precipitation protocol. The isolated DNA product after compaction precipitation was largely free of serum contaminants and was suitable for downstream applications.


Using compaction precipitation, we were able to isolate and concentrate small DNA from serum, and increase the sensitivity of detection by more than four orders of magnitude. We were able to recover and detect very low levels (0.01 ng/ml) of a small DNA fragment in serum. In addition to being very sensitive, the method is fast, simple, inexpensive, and avoids the use of toxic chemicals.

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