Part of the appeal of real-time PCR and melting analysis is to integrate previously separate amplification and analysis steps without large-scale automation. Further integration of sample preparation into small diagnostic devices has now been FDA approved by at least two companies, the GeneXpert (Cepheid) and the FilmArray (Idaho Technology).
The FilmArray, for example, achieves sample disruption (bead beating), nucleic acid purification, reverse transcription, multiplex PCR for preamplification of 15–50 targets, secondary individual PCRs on a mini-array, and high-resolution melting analysis, all in less than one hour.
In summary, we have come a long way in making PCR faster, cheaper, and better. This article is necessarily biased by my own experiences, and my apologies if I have left out your favorite PCR derivative or direction. The fact that there are so many supports the power, flexibility, and value of the fundamental method. PCR will remain as one of the basic tools of the genetic engineer as an elegant and robust method for targeted amplification.
What of the future? The speed of PCR and melting is still limited by temperature measurement and control in commercial instruments. Temperature protocols are not transferable between manufacturers and most users typically think under the equilibrium temperature/time paradigm rather than the kinetic reality of constantly changing temperature necessary for rapid PCR.
Users and manufacturers have, in the past, been more concerned about numbers of samples (batch size) than speed and quality of the reactions. This historical choice of quantity over quality provides an opportunity going forward to improve temperature control, and thereby, speed and reproducibility between samples and instruments.
The potential of high-quality PCR and melting in less than 10 minutes is real. Other areas open to further progress are design and prediction tools focused on PCR. Although many primer and probe designs are available, few if any of the commonly accepted rules are based on empirical evidence.
Prediction tools for Tm are often inaccurate and complicated by the unfortunate trend of manufacturers to include proprietary ingredients that are not disclosed and users’ willingness to purchase them. Perhaps it is another tribute to PCR that it works so often given the current limitations of the state of the art.