AMPorterfield

I'm a writer, editor, and communications consultant, specializing in biotech, life sciences and healthcare. I've worked for the Salk Institute, Life Technologies, Amgen, Pfizer, academic institutions, startups, non-profits and consulting firms. I've got a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, and a MS in biotech management from the University of Maryland.

Articles by AMPorterfield:

Do Bad Genes Beget Disease? Hey, Not So Fast!

The purpose of genetic testing is to find altered genes that could cause disease. Consequently, people could be treated, or prospective parents can make decisions about having children. However, scientists are finding that having a gene which causes disease doesn’t necessarily cause that disease! We are all mutants Researchers at Cambridge and Cardiff universities found that a…

07 Feb 2013 Genomics & Epigenetics

Do Your Homework to Find Good Reference Genes

Comparing and measuring gene expression is certainly an integral part of research—gene expression patterns continue to show us how different cell networks are regulated, and point to new biological pathways and possible treatments for disease. But one crucial part of gene expression lies in making sure that differences in gene expression are due to gene…

28 Jan 2013 PCR, qPCR and qRT-PCR

We Learn a Wee Bit More about Proteins—from Wii

About thirteen years ago, a group of science journalists gathered in a darkened lab at Rice University in Houston, Texas. The lights went off, and the participants took turns donning a clunky helmet with darkened visor. By moving the right thumb, each helmet-wearing reporter suddenly was whisked down the middle of protein ribbon, twisted through…

19 Dec 2012 Fun Stuff

NHS uses NGS to combat MRSA!

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) persistently plagues hospitals worldwide. Until now, hospital (or healthcare) MRSA (HA-MRSA) was of a different lineage from MRSA found in the community. Since HA-MRSA could not survive in a non-hospital setting, this made things rather convenient. Testing for HA-MRSA was routine and the isolates, in particular one called ST22, could easily…

22 Nov 2012 Genomics & Epigenetics

Who Found the First Plasmid?

Plasmids—the loops of DNA in bacteria that form the original foundation of biotechnology—were being discovered constantly in the 1940s and 1950s. The only problem was, they were called everything but. Series of scientists found bacteriophages and other strange loops of somatic DNA, and gave them a series of names, including: pangenes, bioblasts, plasmagenes, plastogenes, choncriogenes,…

09 Nov 2012 DNA / RNA Manipulation and Analysis

Genomes on cell phones- there’s no app for that…yet!

A long, long time ago- before the human genome sequence was announced, a cancer specialist friend wrote a whimsical essay in a university newsletter. He predicted that future patients would drive to a clinical data center, plug a flash drive into a computer and have their genomes scanned for current and potential disease. The reaction…

08 Nov 2012 Genomics & Epigenetics

You’re Closer to the Clinic Than You Think: NGS and Clinical Trials

A decade or so ago, the phrase ‘translational research’ began making its rounds through laboratories- it was supposed to take molecular biology results and apply them directly to patients. It brought about things like gene therapy, stem cell therapy, and so forth. You get the idea- valuable research, but not immediately injectable. Valuable and cheap…

18 Oct 2012 Genomics & Epigenetics

Book Review: Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbott

Finishing Flatland, a novella published by British mathematician and teacher Edwin Abbott a good 20 years before Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and the growth of quantum mechanics, leaves the reader wondering what Abbott could possibly have known about these later figures and events. But the book’s very existence underscores just how fundamental those 20th…

10 Sep 2012 Inspiring & Thought Provoking

How the Ion Torrent Sequencer works

Just before Life Technologies purchased the start-up company Ion Torrent, the fledgling company was dealing with a torrent of another kind—worldwide media interest in its new sequencing technology, which promised to bring the price of next-generation, massively parallel sequencing down to $1,000 per run. Since that dramatic announcement in the summer of 2011, Life Technologies…

06 Sep 2012 Genomics & Epigenetics

How to Save Our Science—a Case Study

Mentioning the abbreviation “GMO” yields one of two reactions: fascination with the biotechnology of creating food and other organisms that thrive despite pests or bad weather, or horror at the idea of creating an unknown, dangerous monster in the laboratory. Rothamsted Research, in Harpenden, England, was yet another biotechnology lab faced with the latter reaction…

27 Aug 2012 Inspiring & Thought Provoking

This Is Your Brain On NGS

Neuroscience presents unique genetics challenges. Genetics of the brain means studying an enormous number of mutations. In addition, many loci encode proteins that interact with each other, so a mutation that affects one protein could, in fact, affect the function of other proteins in a given pathway, even if the other proteins are not mutated.…

23 Aug 2012 Genomics & Epigenetics

How Pure is Your Cell Culture Broth? Comparing Mycoplasma Detection Kits

Mycoplasmas are the most difficult-to-detect organisms in your eukaryotic cell culture. And they can be the most dangerous; they can disrupt cell growth and differentiation and even apoptotic patterns without you even knowing what’s going on until it’s too late. Traditional cell culture methods can take up to a month to yield results, which means…

01 Aug 2012 Cells and Model Organisms

What’s THAT Doing in My Culture?

A young laboratory technician was puzzled by his plates when he pulled them out of the warm room. They never looked that cloudy and fuzzy before. He brought them to his lab director, who shook her head sadly; together, they threw the plates away. Does this story sound familiar? What probably happened was an all-too…

28 May 2012 Cells and Model Organisms

The Invisible Horde: Attacking Mycoplasma Infections

Mycoplasma infections are very, very bad news; these special prokaryotes can rapidly spread through your cell culture and inhibit cell proliferation, induce apoptosis, cytokines and radicals, and otherwise transform your cells. Worst of all, since contamination is not easy to spot, you may not realize your culture is contaminated until it’s too late. The 100…

21 May 2012 Cells and Model Organisms

How Do Buffers Work?

A former colleague and friend of mine worked in technical support, taking calls from scientists. Most of the calls came from life science researchers frustrated by failed experiments. My friend would listen for a bit, then almost always exclaim in very charming but booming Russian-accented English, “No! You must add buffer to the experiment! It…

16 Apr 2012 Basic Lab Skills & Know-how

What Memories Are Made Of

It’s not even noon and you’ve already misplaced your car keys, snuck a peak at the molarity conversion figures you wrote on a sticky note on your lab bench, and reminded yourself to button your lab coat before working under the hood. All of these activities are the work of memory, and each of them…

09 Mar 2012 Inspiring & Thought Provoking

The Secrets of Thermophile Survival: Part I

In response to my last article, The Taq behind PCR, one of our readers, Bonnie Barrilleaux, asked whether DNA could naturally survive at temperatures that would denature it. It also begged the question; how do proteins stay intact and functioning at these high (55°C and up) temperatures? It turns out, cells do a lot of…

13 Jul 2009 PCR, qPCR and qRT-PCR

The Taq behind PCR

Nobel Laureate Kary Mullis is generally credited with inventing the polymerase chain reaction, but his discovery owes a lot to a microbiologist who loved to travel, some refuted assumptions of what can live in hot springs, and a now-closed field station in Yellowstone National Park. Here’s the story. In the 1960s, Thomas Brock was a…

10 Jun 2009 PCR, qPCR and qRT-PCR