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:

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