Traditional Culture vs. Real-time PCR

A critical step in developing an appropriate treatment plan for infection is identifying the pathogen responsible. The gold standard for testing has been traditional culture and sensitivity. Now healthcare providers have another option--molecular testing.

Diagnostic infectious disease tests:


Conducted mostly by clinical microbiology laboratories, traditional culture testing methods rely upon the growth of the organism(s) which can take several days. Once grown in the laboratory, the organisms are selected and re-grown for isolation. Each unique colony of organisms is then additionally tested to determine the sensitivity to the antibiotics available. Although most organisms will grow in the laboratory, many do not. Culture is a time and labor-intensive process that has many pitfalls which could prevent or delay accurate identification and subsequent treatment.

Real-time PCR

Real-time PCR utilizes the ability of special enzymes and short primers to recognize and amplify microbial RNA or DNA in a sample. The primers are highly specific to the organisms tested and can identify very low levels of infectious disease organisms. RT-PCR has the power to very accurately recognize a broad range of organisms and can do so in hours as opposed to days.


Involves a lot of trial and error

Time-consuming process, lengthy waiting period

Can fail to identify some organisms

Requires costly lab time

Analysis is affected by current antibiotic use

Precisely analyzes genetic material of pathogens

Can be completed in 24-hours

Can accurantly identify a wider spectrum of microbes (viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi) simultaneously

Provides more definitive diagnosis

Analysis is not affected by current antibiotic use

Real-time PCR

The major advantage of Real-time PCR over traditional culture-based methods is the ability to obtain accurate results in a very short period of time.

Coastal Laboratories' molecular diagnostics dramatically reduces the chance for errors in specimen collection, handling, stability, and time to analyze.