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RAPD (pronounced "rapid") stands for 'Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA'. It is a type of PCR reaction, but the segments of DNA that are amplified are random. The scientist performing RAPD creates several arbitrary, short primers (8–12 nucleotides), then proceeds with the PCR using a large template of genomic DNA, hoping that fragments will amplify. By resolving the resulting patterns, a semi-unique profile can be gleaned from a RAPD reaction.
No knowledge of the DNA sequence for the targeted genome is required, as the primers will bind somewhere in the sequence, but it is not certain exactly where. This makes the method popular for comparing the DNA of biological systems that have not had the attention of the scientific community, or in a system in which relatively few DNA sequences are compared (it is not suitable for forming a DNA databank). Because it relies on a large, intact DNA template sequence, it has some limitations in the use of degraded DNA samples. Its resolving power is much lower than targeted, species specific DNA comparison methods, such as short tandem repeats. In recent years, RAPD has been used to characterize, and trace, the phylogeny of diverse plant and animal species.
RAPD markers are decamer (10 nucleotide length) DNA fragments from PCR amplification of random segments of genomic DNA with single primer of arbitrary nucleotide sequence and which are able to differentiate between genetically distinct individuals, although not necessarily in a reproducible way. It is used to analyse the genetic diversity of an individual by using random primers. Due to problems in experiment reproducibility, many scientific journals do not accept experiments merely based on RAPDs anymore. RAPD requires only one primer for amplification.
How it works
Unlike traditional PCR analysis, RAPD does not require any specific knowledge of the DNA sequence of the target organism: the identical 10-mer primers will or will not amplify a segment of DNA, depending on positions that are complementary to the primers' sequence. For example, no fragment is produced if primers annealed too far apart or 3' ends of the primers are not facing each other. Therefore, if a mutation has occurred in the template DNA at the site that was previously complementary to the primer, a PCR product will not be produced, resulting in a different pattern of amplified DNA segments on the gel.
RAPD is an inexpensive yet powerful typing method for many bacterial species. The image visible at the link  is a silver-stained polyacrylamide gel showing three distinct RAPD profiles generated by primer OPE15 for Haemophilus ducreyi isolates from Tanzania, Senegal, Thailand, Europe, and North America.
Selecting the right sequence for the primer is very important because different sequences will produce different band patterns and possibly allow for a more specific recognition of individual strains.
Limitations of RAPD
- Nearly all RAPD markers are dominant, i.e. it is not possible to distinguish whether a DNA segment is amplified from a locus that is heterozygous (1 copy) or homozygous (2 copies). Codominant RAPD markers, observed as different-sized DNA segments amplified from the same locus, are detected only rarely.
- PCR is an enzymatic reaction, therefore the quality and concentration of template DNA, concentrations of PCR components, and the PCR cycling conditions may greatly influence the outcome. Thus, the RAPD technique is notoriously laboratory dependent and needs carefully developed laboratory protocols to be reproducible.
- Mismatches between the primer and the template may result in the total absence of PCR product as well as in a merely decreased amount of the product. Thus, the RAPD results can be difficult to interpret.
Developing locus-specific, co-dominant markers from RAPDs
- The polymorphic RAPD marker band is isolated from the gel.
- It is amplified in the PCR reaction.
- The PCR product is cloned and sequenced.
- New longer and specific primers are designed for the DNA sequence, which is called the Sequenced Characterized Amplified Region Marker (SCAR).
- Rarphic DNA (RAPD). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/projects/genome/probe/doc/TechRAPD.shtml
- RAPD Technique at the US National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)