DNA prep protocols often include a final precipitation step with alcohol, often isopropanol, where the DNA must be kept in the alcohol, at a low temperature such as -20C or -70C, often overnight.

What is the point of keeping it at low temperature? Is lower better? At what point do you see diminishing returns?

What about the time? Is overnight really necessary, or would, say, an hour suffice? Do lower temperatures result in quicker precipitation?


1 Answer 1


For the precipitation you use different reagents: First you add salt under slightly acidic conditions to make sure that the DNA precipitates in a less polar environment. This is achieved by adding alcoholes like ethanol or isopropanol.

It is commonly thought that a incubation at low temperatures enhances the results, but this is interestingly not true. There is a paper from the Bethesda Research Laboratories which is called "Ethanol Precipitation of DNA." which analyzes these relationships (temperature, time and alcohol concentration) in great detail, its definitely worth reading.

Figure 1-3 from this paper shows the influence for Ethanol (but I am pretty sure that this is not much different for isopropanol):

enter image description here

I would prefer ethanol precipitation to ispropanol whenever possible. Isopropanol co-precipates salts, so you have to wash a few times with 70% ethanol and it is less volatile than ethanol, so the drying step takes longer. Its also less effective cleaning organic compounds like phenol away and sometimes the pellets are harder to see.

On the other it can be useful when you have to deal with large volumes, since you only need 0,7 volumes of isopropanol compared with 2,5 volumes of ethanol.

Precipitations with Isopropanol are usually not incubated but centrifuged directly after mixing. Here is a protocol from my lab (which originally came from Qiagen, if I remember correct):

  • Adjust the salt concentration, for example, with sodium acetate (0.3 M, pH 5.2, final concentration) or ammonium acetate (2.0–2.5 M, final concentration).
  • Add 0.6–0.7 volumes of room-temperature isopropanol to the DNA solution and mix well.
  • Centrifuge the sample immediately at 10,000–15,000 x g for 15–30 min at 4°C
  • Carefully decant the supernatant without disturbing the pellet.
  • Wash the DNA pellet by adding 1–10 ml (depending on the size of the preparation) of room-temperature 70% ethanol. This removes co-precipitated salt and replaces the isopropanol with the more volatile ethanol, making the DNA easier to redissolve.
  • Centrifuge at 10,000–15,000 x g for 5–15 min at 4°C
  • Repeat the washing and centrifugation steps once more.
  • Carefully decant the supernatant without disturbing the pellet.
  • Air-dry the pellet for 5–20 min (depending on the size of the pellet).
  • Redissolve the DNA in a suitable buffer.
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    $\begingroup$ It seems that overnight incubation is absolutely superfluous based on Fig.2 - or am I mistaken? $\endgroup$
    – Superbest
    Feb 21, 2014 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ Thats how I read it and how we do it. I have never had any problems with short incubation times. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Feb 21, 2014 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ Because you should be able to see a difference between 0 (simply mixing) and 10 minutes. And its also my own experience with fits with this data. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Feb 22, 2014 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ @AnuragMishra 20-30 Minutes, longer is not necessary. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Aug 15, 2014 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ That depends on the pH you are working at. If it is already slightly acidic, than NaCl is usually ok. If not, use sodium acetate to make sure that the DNA gets enough protons. This reduces the solubility. One thing: If you have a lot of questions, please ask a new question with it and not as in the comments below other questions. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Aug 16, 2014 at 7:19

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