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The importance of Tm in molecular biology applications

The melting temperature of an oligonucleotide duplex, or Tm, is the temperature at which half of the oligonucleotide molecules are single-stranded and half are double-stranded, i.e., the oligonucleotide is 50% annealed to its exact complement. Tm is a critical parameter to consider when designing and performing many molecular biology experiments, including PCR and qPCR.

Selecting primer melting temperature

Accurate prediction of Tm identifies duplexes that are likely to form at specific temperatures, allowing you to determine appropriate thermal cycling parameters. During the annealing phase of PCR, the reaction temperature needs to be sufficiently low to allow both forward and reverse primers to bind to the template, but not so low as to enable the formation of undesired, non-specific duplexes or intramolecular hairpins, both of which reduce reaction efficiency. Both primers in PCR should be chosen to have a similar Tm. IDT recommends selecting an annealing temperature 5–7°C below the lowest primer Tm.

Selecting probe melting temperature

Designing qPCR assays with dual-labeled probes also requires careful coordination of primer Tm. When the reaction temperature is lowered from denaturing to annealing during cycling, the probe needs to anneal first to the target. If the probe binds to the target at the same time or after the primers bind, the polymerase may begin replication of target that does not contain bound probe. As a result, new DNA will be synthesized without associated probe degradation and, therefore, will not be detected as an increase in fluorescence. Such a situation leads to inaccurate data. For standard qPCR, IDT recommends a probe that has a Tm 5–10°C higher than the Tm of the primers.

Double-check published Tm data

It is important to check the Tm of any oligonucleotide sequences used in PCR even when a previously successful primer and probe set is taken directly from a publication. The design of such published sequences may incorporate Tm enhancers such as a minor grove binder or LNA bases. These Tm enhancers are not necessary for gene expression analysis; unmodified probe and primer sets that provide reliable, accurate data can be designed for the same targets without the added expense of unnecessary modifications.

Predicting Tm

What is the best and easiest way to predict Tm? The OligoAnalyzer® tool from IDT, found in the SciTools applications section of our website, is the result of continuing research and innovation. It takes into account the effects of oligonucleotide, cation, dNTP, and salt concentrations, oligonucleotide sequence, and nearest-neighbor interactions. The consideration of all these factors enables accurate prediction of oligonucleotide Tm specific to your reaction conditions [1]. For more information on the calculations and algorithm used by the OligoAnalyzer tool, refer to the IDT technical report, Calculation of Tm for Oligonucleotide Duplexes [2].

References

  1. Owczarzy R, Moreira BG, et al. (2008) Predicting stability of DNA duplexes in solutions containing magnesium and monovalent cations. Biochemistry, 47(19): 5336–5353.
  2. http://www.idtdna.com/pages/docs/technical-reports/calculation-of-tm-for-oligonucleotide-duplexes.pdf

Product focus—Online tools, custom oligos

SciTools® Web Tools

Explore IDT SciTools® Web Tools for free, online software for oligonucleotide handling and analysis.


  • OligoAnalyzer® Tool—Analyze oligonucleotide melting temperature, hairpins, dimers, and mismatches. Perform BLAST analysis directly from this tool.

  • Resuspension Calculator—Get assistance determining the volume needed to resuspend a dry, lyophilized oligonucleotide to a desired concentration.

  • Dilution Calculator—Use this tool to determine how much volume is needed to dilute a stock solution down to the final (desired) lower concentration.

  • Codon Optimization Tool—Get access to additional tools for qPCR assays design, NGS target capture probe design, and siRNA design. Visit www.idtdna.com and select Tools.


Custom Oligonucleotides and primers

You can order up to 1 µmol desalted, custom synthesized DNA oligonucleotides and they will be shipped to you the next business day (larger scales are shipped within 5 business days). You can also specify whether to receive them dried down or hydrated, and whether you want them already annealed. Every IDT oligonucleotide you order is deprotected and desalted to remove small molecule impurities. Your oligos are quantified twice by UV spectrophotometry to provide an accurate measure of yield. Standard oligos are also assessed by mass spectrometry for quality you can count on.


Learn more or order now.

Related articles

Using the OligoAnalyzer® Program—Free IDT web tool that allows you to determine the physical characteristics of your oligonucleotides.

Understanding Melting Temperature (Tm)—Advice from our own Dr Richard Owczarzy on considerations for better oligo design: oligo concentration, salt, SNPs.

Assessing formulas that calculate Tm—do nearest-neighbor parameters matter?—Should programs that predict Tm include nearest neighbor parameters? Learn which factors are critical for Tm calculation accuracy, and which online software takes them into account.

Oligo Quantification—Getting it Right—Why a supplier's yield readings can differ from what the researcher calculates after resuspension, and the importance of using the [right] molar extinction coefficient in calculations of oligonucleotide concentration.

Author: Martin Whitman is a Technical Support Representative at IDT.

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