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PCR on CSI: Like driving cross-state in a minute

by Eva Amsen

I was looking for informative videos about PCR for a microteaching session, and came across this outtake from CSI, where DNA isolation and PCR takes about a minute! (In reality, just the PCR step alone would take about 2-3 hours, not counting the preparation time needed to extract DNA from samples). Comments about PCR on CSI on this YouTube video say “I can barely thaw the Taq buffer that fast!” and “it takes at least 2 hours to extract DNA from Buccal swabs. (…) If this could happen in reality I would finish my research in a year or less.”

Believe me, this does not take 1 minute. A non-science equivalent would be a situation in which someone drives from Toronto to New York in one minute. Or from Amsterdam to Zurich in one minute. Or from your local town to one that is about 6-8 hours away, in one minute. You’d never believe that if you saw it on TV in one shot. What’s wrong with a minor cut to show a progression of time?

The short clip also includes one of my favourite CSI pet peeves: the results come straight from the printer! No interpretation, no computer screen – just a page with exactly the answer to the question you were looking for.

PCR on CSI is only one of my many CSI pet peeves.

(PCR explained – note the mention of “a few hours” at the bottom of the page. This does not include DNA isolation from the sample.)


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Eva February 1, 2008 - 6:08 PM

I need to get my samples from the qPCR machine now. I’ve never used this machine, so I don’t know how to interpret what comes out of it. It’s Friday night, there’s nobody to explain it to me. THIS is when I could really use one of those CSI printers to tell me directly what I need to know.

Dave February 2, 2008 - 1:43 PM

I wonder why the labs are always so poorly lit.

Czevak February 5, 2008 - 9:08 AM

Oh. If it always were that easy. No squabbling about bands that are, where they shouldn’t be and others aren’t. Just a simple “Bob’s your uncle.” on a printout. 😉

By the way: You got your qPCR results interpreted yet?

Amy February 8, 2008 - 11:31 AM

That’s one of the worst examples of bad TV science I’ve seen in a while. I think I need to move to Miami and work in that lab instead! I want the magical printer.

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