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DNA Quantification and Quality Analysis

After isolation of DNA, quantification and analysis of quality are necessary to ascertain the
approximate quantity of DNA obtained and the suitability of DNA sample for further
analysis. This is important for many applications including digestion of DNA by restriction
enzymes or PCR amplification of target DNA. The most commonly used methodologies for
quantifying the amount of nucleic acid in a preparation are: (i) gel electrophoresis; and (ii)
spectrophotometric analysis. If the sample amount is less, the former method is usually

A. Agarose Gel Electrophoresis for DNA Quantification and Quality Analysis

This method of quantification is based on the ethidium bromide fluorescent staining of DNA.
Ethidium bromide is a fluorescent dye, which intercalates between the stacked bases. The
fluorescent yield of the dye:DNA complex is much greater than the unbound dye. UV
irradiation at 254nm is absorbed by the DNA and transmitted to the dye and the bound dye
itself absorbs radiation at 302nm and 366nm. This energy is retransmitted at 590nm, the
reddish-orange region of the visible spectrum. In case of plant genomic DNA, the nucleic
acids are electrophoretically separated on a 0.7-0.8% agarose gel containing ethidium
bromide at a final concentration of 0.5 µ g/ml. The quantity of DNA can be estimated by
comparing the fluorescent yield of the samples with a series of standards, for instance, lambda
(λ ) DNA at varying known concentrations. This provides a very rapid and sensitive means of
estimating the nucleic acid concentration. A large number of samples with as little as 1-5ng of
DNA can be quantified. Besides quantification, it also allows provides the advantage of
analyzing the quality of the DNA preparation. Native DNA, which migrates as a tight band of
high molecular weight (≥ 40 kb), presence of RNA, and degraded/sheared DNA, if any, can
be visually identified on the gel.


1. Prepare a 0.8% agarose gel.

2. Add 1 µ l of 6X gel loading dye to 2-3 µ l of each DNA sample before loading the wells
of the gel. Addition of dye allows us to note the extent to which the samples might have
migrated during electrophoresis, so that it can be halted at an appropriate stage.
3. Load at least 1 or 2 wells with uncut, good quality λ DNA or any previously quantified
DNA samples (50ng and 100ng) as molecular weight standards.
4. Run the submarine electrophoretic gel at 70V till the dye has migrated one-third of the
distance in the gel.
5. DNA can be visualized using a UV transilluminator and quantified in comparison with the
fluorescent yield of the standards.

Note: For SSR and RAPD analysis, it is more important to have good quality DNA samples
(unsheared/undegraded DNA), than high quantities of DNA. In contrast, RFLP analysis
requires larger quantities of DNA, since the technique is not PCR-based.

B. Spectrophotometric Determination

Analysis of UV absorption by the nucleotides provides a simple and accurate estimation of

the concentration of nucleic acids in a sample. Purines and pyrmidines in nucleic acid show
absorption maxima around 260nm (eg., dATP: 259nm; dCTP: 272nm; dTTP: 247nm) if the
DNA sample is pure without significant contamination from proteins or organic solvents. The
ratio of OD260/OD280 should be determined to assess the purity of the sample. This method is
however limited by the quantity of DNA and the purity of the preparation. Accurate analysis
of the DNA preparation may be impeded by the presence of impurities in the sample or if the
amount of DNA is too little. In the estimation of total genomic DNA, for example, the
presence of RNA, sheared DNA etc. could interfere with the accurate estimation of total high
molecular weight genomic DNA.


1. Take 1 ml TE buffer in a cuvette and calibrate the spectrophotometer at 260nm as well as

2. Add 10 µ l of each DNA sample to 900µ l TE (Tris-EDTA buffer) and mix well.
3. Use TE buffer as a blank in the other cuvette of the spectrophotometer.
4. Note the OD260 and OD280 values on spectrophotometer.
5. Calculate the OD260/OD280 ratio.

 A ratio between 1.8-2.0 denotes that the absorption in the UV range is due to nucleic
 A ratio lower than 1.8 indicates the presence of proteins and/or other UV absorbers.
 A ratio higher than 2.0 indicates that the samples may be contaminated with
chloroform or phenol. In either case (<1.8 or >2.0) it is advisable to re-precipitate the DNA.

6. The amount of DNA can be quantified using the formula:

DNA concentration (µ g/ml) = OD260 x 100 (dilution factor) x 50 µ g/ml


Spectrophotomteric Conversions for Nucleic Acids:

1 A 260 of ds DNA = 50 µ g/ml

1 A 260 of ss oligonucleotides = 33 µ g/ml
1 A 260 of ss RNA = 40 µ g/ml


Hoisington, D. Khairallah, M. and Gonzalez-de-Leon, D. (1994). Laboratory Protocols:

CIMMYT Applied Biotechnology Center. Second Edition, Mexico, D.F.: CIMMYT.

Laboratory for Microbial Ecology

Department of Earth, Ecological and Environmental Sciences
University of Toledo
DNA quantification (spectrophotometry)

DNA standard solutions

We have a standard series of herring sperm DNA solutions that includes DNA concentrations
of 500, 100, 50, and 10 ng DNA μl-1. Keep stocks of these solutions by diluting the
concentrated herring sperm DNA (10 mg ml-1) accordingly in DNase/RNase-free water.
D.I. water for dilution of DNA prior to reading.
One sterile 1.5 ml microcentrifuge tube for each sample
Plastic (for concentrated samples, >50 μg ml-1) or quartz (for low concentration samples, < 50
μg ml-1) cuvettes.

• Wear gloves throughout the entire protocol.

• Do not cross-contaminate your samples or the solutions. Be aware of your pipette tip.

• Work clean, either on fresh blue bench paper, in the hood, or on a freshly ethanol treated
bench top.

• Perform all centrifugations with the hinge of the tube pointing “up”.

• Do not use a vortex at any point in this protocol unless specified.

Begin by turning on the spec to allow the lamp to warm up for approximately 15 minutes

before reading samples. Be sure that there is no cuvette in the well as the spec goes

through its self-diagnosis.

The protocol in brief

You will quantify DNA in solution by measuring the absorbance of light (260 nm) in a
A. Preparing DNA samples

1. Remove the standards and your samples from the freezer and thaw them on ice or in the
refrigerator. Mix them by tapping the side of the tube with your finger. Do not vortex
to mix.

2. In a separate sterile 1.5 ml microcentrifuge tube for each standard/sample, mix 10 μl of

DNA with 990 μl of D.I. water. Vortex to mix. Let this solution stand for 10 minutes
to ensure the complete diffusion of DNA throughout the solution. This represents a
1:100 dilution of the standards and your DNA samples.
B. Preparing the spectrophotometer
A typical spectrophotometer

3. Select “DNA/RNA”, and follow the cues given by the spec to set the machine up for your
We most commonly quantify: dsDNA
Absorbance of 1 relates to: 50 μg ml-1 DNA

4. Press “Enter” to validate these settings.

5. Select “Dilution factor” and enter “100” to account for the DNA concentration in your
sample being 1:100 of your original stock.
6. Press “Enter” to validate these settings.
7. Blank the spec by first inspecting the cuvette to make sure that there are no smudges or
blemishes that might interfere with the absorbance reading and then inserting a sample of
water identical to the water in which you diluted your DNA sample and pressing “Read blank”
8. Return to the assay screen by pressing “>”.

The spec is now set to begin reading standards and samples.

C. Reading standards/samples
9. Inspect the cuvette to make sure that there are no smudges or blemishes that might interfere
with the absorbance reading. Briefly vortex the DNA sample again and transfer the solution to
the cuvette being careful not to form bubbles along the wall of the cuvette. First read the
10. Insert the cuvette into the spec. Be sure that the correct face of the cuvette is aligned with
the direction of the light beam. Close the lid and press ”Read sample” to begin reading.
An absorbance reading will appear on the screen when the reading is complete (approximately
3 seconds).

11. Prepare the next standard as above, and continue reading until all standards have been

The readout will provide several important pieces of data:

“A260” – this is the wavelength of light that is absorbed by DNA. This value is used to
determine that concentration of DNA in your sample according to the conversion factor you
set previously (A260 of 1.0 = 50 μg ml-1 DNA, step 3).
“A280” – The absorbance generated at 280 nm is used in the ratio A260:A280, which determines
the purity of the DNA. Samples are considered of adequate purity if A260:A280 >1.5.
“Conc.” – Based on the conversion factor and dilution factor you programmed into the spec at
start-up, this is the concentration of DNA in your sample (μg ml-1).
The results of the standard readings should be accurate (± 10%) before proceeding with your
12. Continue reading your samples as above until all samples have been quantified.
13. To print your results, press “Print”, at which time you will be given three printing options.
Choose option “3”, which directs the spectrophotometer to print all unprinted sample data.
The other two options can also be used but check the manual to determine if these are the best
14. To exit the program press “Cancel”, then “<” to “Exit assay”.
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