DNA replication, the basis for biological inheritance, is a fundamental process occurring in all living organisms to copy their DNA. This process is "semiconservative" in that each strand of the original double-stranded DNA molecule serves as template for the reproduction of the complementary strand. Hence, following DNA replication, two identical DNA molecules have been produced from a single double-stranded DNA molecule. Cellular proofreading and error-checking mechanisms ensure near perfect fidelity for DNA replication.
In a cell, DNA replication begins at specific locations in the genome, called "origins". Unwinding of DNA at the origin, and synthesis of new strands, forms a replication fork. In addition to DNA polymerase, the enzyme that synthesizes the new DNA by adding nucleotides matched to the template strand, a number of other proteins are associated with the fork and assist in the initiation and continuation of DNA synthesis.
DNA replication can also be performed in vitro (outside a cell). DNA polymerases, isolated from cells, and artificial DNA primers are used to initiate DNA synthesis at known sequences in a template molecule. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a common laboratory technique, employs such artificial synthesis in a cyclic manner to amplify a specific target DNA fragment from a pool of DNA.