The Single Cell Gel Electrophoresis assay (also known as comet assay) is an uncomplicated and sensitive technique for the detection of DNA damage at the level of the individual eukaryotic cell. It was first developed by Östling & Johansson in 1984 and later modified by Singh et al. in 1988. It has since increased in popularity as a standard technique for evaluation of DNA damage/repair, biomonitoring and genotoxicity testing. It involves the encapsulation of cells in a low-melting-point agarose suspension, lysis of the cells in neutral or alkaline (pH>13) conditions, and electrophoresis of the suspended lysed cells.
Principle: The comet assay (single-cell gel electrophoresis) is a simple method for measuring deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) strand breaks in eukaryotic cells. Cells embedded in agarose on a microscope slide are lysed with detergent and high salt to form nucleoids containing supercoiled loops of DNA linked to the nuclear matrix. Electrophoresis at high pH results in structures resembling comets, observed by fluorescence microscopy; the intensity of the comet tail relative to the head reflects the number of DNA breaks. The likely basis for this is that loops containing a break lose their supercoiling and become free to extend toward the anode. This is followed by visual analysis with staining of DNA and calculating fluorescence to determine the extent of DNA damage. This can be performed by manual scoring or automatically by imaging software.
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