A method is described for the absolute quantification by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) of nucleic acids present in low abundance. The method entails the addition to the sample of competitor DNA molecules that share the same sequence as the amplified target (including primer recognition sites), except for a 20-bp insertion in the middle, which allows easy resolution by gel electrophoresis (competitive PCR). Among the advantages of competitive PCR is that any predictable or unpredictable variable that affects amplification has the same effect on both target and competitor species and that the final ratio of amplified products reflects exactly the initial rate of targets, rendering the reaction independent of the number of amplification cycles. An easy and reliable method for the construction and quantification of competitive templates obtained as recombinant PCR products was developed. The technique was used for the absolute quantification of human genomic DNA with primers from a single copy, subtelomeric region of chromosome 19.