Teach genetics and more with PCR in your classroom

Looking for an authentic lab to teach genetics or human health? PCR is an important biotech skill that can demonstrate many of these biology concepts and applications in the classroom. This guide will show you how to bring PCR to your classroom!

miniPCR thermal cycler held in hand
Behold the mighty miniPCR thermal cycler

What is PCR?

Nearly every experiment or test in a modern biology lab relies on a technique called polymerase chain reaction or PCR. PCR is a powerful tool that allows scientists to make copies of specific sections of DNA. The DNA sequence that a scientist is interested in is typically relatively short compared to an organism’s vast amount of DNA. For example, the human genome is more than 3.2 billion base pairs long. Identifying a small genetic sequence that might be just a few hundred bases is like searching for a needle in a haystack. PCR allows scientists to make billions of copies of only the region of DNA they are interested in, effectively creating a giant pile of needles that dwarfs the original haystack.

For more information, check out our PCR tutorial.

Which PCR thermocycler is for me?

Traditional PCR thermocyclers can be costly and bulky, but miniPCR bio offers two sizes of affordable and easy-to-use thermocyclers: our mini8X that holds 8 samples and our mini16X that holds 16 samples.

What else do we need to start running PCR?

How do I program my miniPCR?

A group of middle school students monitoring a miniPCR run

Our “How to program your miniPCR thermal cyclervideo will walk you and your students how to connect your computer or phone to the miniPCR, as well as program and run a PCR program. All of our Learning Labs include detailed instructions on how to program a protocol for the specific lab activity. 

This What is PCR? video and accompanying worksheet will get your students up and running understanding how PCR works.

What can I teach with PCR?

PCR is a fundamental biotechnology technique that is useful for demonstrating the application of DNA analysis in many fields. Use PCR to explore ideas within genetics, human health, environmental monitoring, CRISPR, or forensics.

Our labs can roughly be divided into two categories: 

  • Labs with provided DNA: These labs provide DNA samples ready to go for PCR. You do not need to do any DNA extraction. These labs are designed for robust results, and are great for PCR beginners who haven’t had much hands-on lab experience.
  • Labs requiring DNA extraction from samples: These labs require the students to extract DNA from food, soil, or even from their own cells! Because results will depend on the samples tested, these open-ended labs promote inquiry. The extraction process can be technically tricky, however, and negative results are common (as they are in all research). These labs are best for students who have some experience with PCR.


Topic Learning Labs with provided DNA Learning Labs requiring DNA extraction
Basic genetics
  • PTC Taster Lab: test your own DNA to determine whether you carry taster or non-taster alleles
  • Sleep Lab: use PCR and gel electrophoresis to determine your own genotype at a locus that has been associated with morning vs. evening preference
  • Plant Genetics Lab: investigate the genotypic basis of a phenotype using Wisconsin Fast Plants®. Use PCR to link stem color phenotypes to their underlying genotypes
  • Missy Baker Missing: use PCR to test whether DNA evidence collected from the cars of two different suspects matches Missy Baker
  • Forensics Lab: a crime has occurred in your classroom! Use PCR to compare your DNA to the crime scene evidence to prove your innocence
Environmental science
  • Agricultural Monitoring Lab: use PCR to test soil samples from neighboring farms to determine if antibiotic-resistant bacteria are present
  • eDNA Project: use PCR and gel electrophoresis to help monitor the spread of antibiotic resistance in the environment
  • GMO Detection Lab: test for genetically engineered elements from foods and plant tissues using PCR
Human health and medicine
  • Food Safety Lab: help astronauts find the source of an outbreak of foodborne illness! Characterize bacterial strains and protect the health of astronauts.
  • COVID qPCR Lab: test simulated patient samples for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19

Reminder: you may run any of our miniPCR bio Learning Labs in non-miniPCR bio equipment. You can also run non-miniPCR bio labs in miniPCR bio equipment.

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