Detection and sequence-identification of nucleic acid molecules is often performed by binding, or hybridization, of specimen 'target' strands to immobilized, complementary 'probe' strands. A familiar example is provided by DNA microarrays used to carry out thousands of solid-phase hybridization reactions simultaneously to determine gene expression patterns or to identify genotypes. The underlying molecular process, namely sequence-specific recognition between complementary probe and target molecules, is fairly well understood in bulk solution. However, this knowledge proves insufficient to adequately understand solid-phase hybridization. For example, equilibrium binding constants for solid-phase hybridization can differ by many orders of magnitude relative to solution values. Kinetics of probe-target binding are affected. Surface interactions, electrostatics and polymer phenomena manifest themselves in ways not experienced by hybridizing strands in bulk solution. The emerging fundamental understanding provides important insights into application of DNA microarray and biosensor technologies.
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