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Oligonucleotides are single-stranded DNA or RNA, short molecules that have a varied range of applications in genetic testing, research, and forensics. It is mainly made in the laboratory by solid-phase chemical synthesis, by using any user-specified sequence these small bits of nucleic acids can be manufactured, and so are energetic for artificial gene synthesis, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), DNA sequencing, library construction and as molecular probes. Usually, oligonucleotides are 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 can be characterized by the sequence of nucleotide residues that make up the entire molecule. The length of the oligonucleotide is usually denoted by ‘’-mer’’. For instance, an oligonucleotide of six nucleotides (nt) is a hexamer, while one of 25 nt would usually be called a "25-mer". Oligonucleotides freely 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 actions 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 therapy.
Oligonucleotides are made 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.
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