The process begins with the synthesis of a very large oligonucleotide library consisting of randomly generated sequences of fixed length flanked by constant 5' and 3' ends that serve as primers. For a randomly generated region of length n, the number of possible sequences in the library is 4n.(Four nucleotides (A,T,C,G), with n possibilities). The sequences in the library are exposed to the target ligand - which may be a protein or a small organic compound - and those that do not bind the target are removed, usually by affinity chromatography. The bound sequences are eluted and amplified by PCR to prepare for subsequent rounds of selection in which the stringency of the elution conditions is increased to identify the tightest-binding sequences. An advancement on the original method allows an RNA library to omit the constant primer regions, which can be difficult to remove after the selection process because they stabilize secondary structures that are unstable when formed by the random region alone.
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