The most common technique to determine DNA yield and purity is measurement of absorbance. Although it could be argued that fluorescence measurement is easier, absorbance measurement is simple, and requires commonly available laboratory equipment. All that is needed for the absorbance method is a spectrophotometer equipped with a UV lamp, UV-transparent cuvettes (depending on the instrument) and a solution of purified DNA. Absorbance readings are performed at 260nm (A260) where DNA absorbs light most strongly, and the number generated allows one to estimate the concentration of the solution. To ensure the numbers are useful, the A260 reading should be within the instrument's linear range (generally 0.1–1.0).
DNA concentration is estimated by measuring the absorbance at 260nm, adjusting the A260 measurement for turbidity (measured by absorbance at 320nm), multiplying by the dilution factor, and using the relationship that an A260 of 1.0 = 50µg/ml pure dsDNA.
Concentration (µg/ml) = (A260 reading – A320 reading) × dilution factor × 50µg/ml
Total yield is obtained by multiplying the DNA concentration by the final total purified sample volume.
DNA yield (µg) = DNA concentration × total sample volume (ml)
However, DNA is not the only molecule that can absorb UV light at 260nm. Since RNA also has a great absorbance at 260nm, and the aromatic amino acids present in protein absorb at 280nm, both contaminants, if present in the DNA solution, will contribute to the total measurement at 260nm. Additionally, the presence of guanidine will lead to higher 260nm absorbance. This means that if the A260 number is used for calculation of yield, the DNA quantity may be overestimated.
To evaluate DNA purity, measure absorbance from 230nm to 320nm to detect other possible contaminants. The most common purity calculation is the ratio of the absorbance at 260nm divided by the reading at 280nm. Good-quality DNA will have an A260/A280 ratio of 1.7–2.0. A reading of 1.6 does not render the DNA unsuitable for any application, but lower ratios indicate more contaminants are present. The ratio can be calculated after correcting for turbidity (absorbance at 320nm).
DNA purity (A260/A280) = (A260 reading – A320 reading) ÷ (A280 reading – A320 reading)
Strong absorbance around 230nm can indicate that organic compounds or chaotropic salts are present in the purified DNA. A ratio of 260nm to 230nm can help evaluate the level of salt carryover in the purified DNA. The lower the ratio, the greater the amount of thiocyanate salt is present, for example. As a guideline, the A260/A230 is best if greater than 1.5. A reading at 320nm will indicate if there is turbidity in the solution, another indication of possible contamination. Therefore, taking a spectrum of readings from 230nm to 320nm is most informative.