Oligonucleotides are short, single-stranded DNA or RNA molecules that have a wide range of applications in genetic testing, research, and forensics. Commonly made in the laboratory by solid-phase chemical synthesis, these small bits of nucleic acids can be manufactured with any user-specified sequence, and so are vital for artificial gene synthesis, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), DNA sequencing, library construction and as molecular probes. In nature, oligonucleotides are usually found as small RNA molecules that function in the regulation of gene expression (e.g. microRNA), or are degradation intermediates derived from the breakdown of larger nucleic acid molecules.

Oligonucleotides are characterized by the sequence of nucleotide residues that comprise the entire molecule. The length of the oligonucleotide is usually denoted by "mer" (from Greek meros, "part"). For example, an oligonucleotide of 6 nucleotides (nt) is an hexamer, while one of 25 nt would usually be called a "25-mer". Oligonucleotides readily bind, in a sequence-specific manner, to their respective complementary oligonucleotides, DNA, or RNA to form duplexes or, less often, hybrids of a higher order. This basic property serves as a foundation for the use of oligonucleotides as probes for detecting DNA or RNA. Examples of procedures that use oligonucleotides include DNA microarrays, Southern blots, ASO analysis, fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH), and the synthesis of artificial genes. Oligonucleotides are also indispensable elements in antisense gene therapy.

Oligonucleotides composed of 2'-deoxyribonucleotides (oligodeoxyribonucleotides) are fragments of DNA and are often used in the polymerase chain reaction, a procedure that can greatly amplify almost any small amount of DNA. There, the oligonucleotide is referred to as a primer, allowing DNA polymerase to extend the oligonucleotide and replicate the complementary strand.

Read more about OligonucleotideSynthesis, Antisense Oligonucleotides, DNA Microarray

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