PCR Testing: What Is It?


Learn the story behind the most accurate molecular test.

October 3, 2022

You may know the term “PCR” in reference to COVID-19. However, PCR tests are not only used for COVID-19 testing. 


Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in science was first developed in 1993. It received the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Since then, it’s become the so-called “gold standard” for diagnostic testing.

PCR technology provides a quick, simple way to create unlimited copies of DNA from just one original strand. These millions of copies of a section of DNA can be made in as few as 15 minutes, with the goal to recreate enough DNA for multiple testing uses, such as sequencing or identifying infection and disease.


PCR technology can detect a condition with as little as a single copy of DNA. As a gold standard test, it's typically 95% specific and sensitive. This means “false negative” results do not slip through the cracks, even at an extremely low concentration.


To determine whether someone tests positive for a specific virus, PCR can also tell how much of an infection or disease is in their system. In some cases, like measuring viral load for HIV patients, this can be crucial in determining and adjusting their treatment over time. 


While you may have some at-home COVID-19 tests, you can also receive a PCR test at local clinics, pharmacies or laboratories. If you need a non–COVID-19 PCR test, you can typically receive this from your primary care doctor. Regardless of how you test, that’s good news of itself: You’ve acted in the interest of your health, and you’re pursuing the power of knowing.

Disclaimer: This content is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician. Always seek the advice of your doctor or another qualified health provider regarding a medical condition.