NUCLEIC-ACID AMPLIFICATION TESTS
Nucleic-acid amplification tests, also known as NATs or NAATs, are used to identify small amounts of DNA or RNA in test samples. When it comes to STD testing, there are NATs available that can detect a variety of different STDs. In fact, most urine tests for STDs are performed using nucleic-acid amplification tests.
A NAT uses a series of repeated chemical reactions to make numerous copies of the DNA or RNA that doctors are trying to detect. These reactions amplify the signal of the nucleic acids in the test sample so that they are easier to identify. It's much simpler to find 10,000 copies of a gene than 10.
once the amount of DNA or RNA has been increased in the sample using PCR or LCR, more conventional tests are used to detect it. These tests usually involve some form of nucleic acid hybridization. In those tests, the sample is probed with an artificially produced complementary strand of DNA or RNA that has been labelled in some way that makes it easy to detect. It may help to picture it as a glow in the dark tag that only sticks to one very specific piece of identifying information.
Nucleic-acid amplification tests are incredibly useful for STD testing. They allow doctors to detect an STD pathogen even when only a very small number of organisms are present. It is this sort of technology that has made it possible to do urine testing for STDs that were previously only detectable by swab.
Furthermore, since nucleic-acid amplification tests are incredibly sensitive to even small amounts of viral DNA, they are very important for screening the blood supply. These tests make it possible to detect tiny amounts of HIV and other blood-borne pathogens that might otherwise be missed.
There are also non-amplified nucleic acid tests available for certain STDs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. Non-amplified nucleic acid hybridization tests are more likely to be used when large amounts of bacterial or viral DNA (or RNA) would be expected to be present, such as in a urethral swab or in a bacterial culture sample. In such circumstances, no amplification is necessary. In these samples, if DNA or RNA is present, it should be present in detectable amounts.
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