Even though the big day is now over, Christmas is still very much in everyone’s thoughts, and PCR is just as important at Christmas than at any other time…

Christmas Island

The Christmas Island land crab Gecarcoidea natalis has a very different lifestyle at different times of the year. When it migrates annually for breeding (during the wet season), it moves for up to 12 hours a day, using its leg muscles aerobically, but during the dry season, it uses its leg muscles for just 10 minutes a day, when they become anaerobic. The researchers found differences in gene transcription, producing different proteins during the two seasons, and different isoforms of the muscle contractile elements, confirmed using semi-quantitative RT-PCR. The results were published in Journal of Experimental Biology.

Christmas Cave

PCR has been used to help to work out the textile history of ropes and fabric in the Christmas Cave, a cave in the Qidron Valley near the Dead Sea and Qumran. The PCR was used to amplify DNA in the samples, and the researchers identified it as coming primarily from flax (Linum usitatissamum), with some levels of hemp (Cannabis sativa). Carbon dating showed the samples to date from the Roman and Chalcolithic periods. The results were published in Journal of Archaeological Science.

Christmas food

Researchers from the Hamburg School of Food Science have used PCR to detect doctored or contaminated marzipan, particularly when peach or apricot kernels (both closely related to almonds) have been used as substitute ingredients, or where the production lines are shared with other products. The results were published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, and there’s an article in the Daily Mail.

Christmas gastroenteritis

Norwalk and other forms of gastroenteritis caused by other small round structured viruses (SRSVs) are unfortunately common around Christmas. Researchers looking into an outbreak dubbed ‘Christmas’ in South Africa used RT-PCR to detect SRSVs in patients stools and found that it was more sensitive than immune electron microscopy and enzyme linked immunosorbent assay, and that it could also detect the viruses in sewage and polluted water. The results were published in Water Science and Technology.

So… how are you going to use PCR in 2013?

Suzanne Elvidge is a freelance science, biopharma, business and health writer with more than 20 years of experience. She is editor of Genome Engineering, a blog that monitors the latest developments in genome engineering and that aims to educate (and sometimes to entertain!) and has written for a range of online and print publications including FierceBiomarkers, FierceDrugDelivery, European Life Science, the Journal of Life Sciences (now the Burrill Report), In Vivo, Life Science Leader, Nature Biotechnology, PR Week and Start-Up. She specialises in writing on pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, healthcare, science, lifestyle and green living, but can write on any topic given enough tea and chocolate biscuits. She lives just beyond the neck end of nowhere in the Peak District with her second-hand bookseller husband and two second-hand cats.