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Spare a Thought for the Old Scientists

Posted in: Dealing with Fellow Scientists
Spare a Thought for the Old Scientists

You youngsters don’t know how easy you’ve got it. Kits, outsourcing and improved practices are making research easier and easier. At least in theory (who are we kidding?).

In the old days things were much tougher, and many wiley old scientists bear the scars, mental and physical, of carrying out techniques that were mind numbing, frustrating or just plain dangerous. Now the Bitesize Bio team is (generally) not THAT old – or so we tell ourselves – but we put our heads together and to think of the techniques we are most glad we don’t have to use anymore. And, together with a some suggestions from our Twitter followers, we came up with a top 10 .

Please feel free to share your own, especially if you are a REALLY old scientist and remember some of the especially nasty stuff!

1. DNA sequencing. In the old days DNA sequencing meant pouring massive gels, slopping around up to your armpits in P-32 phosphorus and reading the sequence by hand from the gel. We much prefer the “stick a tube in an envelope and send it off to the sequencing service” approach.

2. Making Oligos. Another revolution. Sending the sequence off to the oligo synthesis service is so much better than spending an eternity to (attempt to) make them yourself.

3. Phenol-chloroform extractions. No more smelly phenol in our labs, we’ve got spin columns (Thanks @Kyrsten_Jensen for this suggestion)

4. Packing protein purification columns. Buying them pre-made is so much easier (Thanks @Kyrsten_Jensen for this suggestion)

5. Electrophoresis with home-made electrophoresis apparatus. Electrifying! (although our home-made gel visualisation apparatus is pretty good!)

6. Northen Blots. Thank you bioinformatics.

7. Drying Agarose gels/SDS-PAGE gels for archiving. Thank you digital photography! (thanks @saxphile for this suggestion)

8. Adding mineral oil to PCR. Whoever invented heated lids in PCR machines was a genius (thanks @saxphile for this suggestion)

9. Home made minipreps. I may not have been the greenest-fingered scientist that ever lived but the failure rate of my home-made minipreps was pretty big, especially when I did many of them at one. Thank goodness for miniprep kits.

10. Pouring your own SDS-PAGE gels. This one, and I suppose many of the others above that advocate buying pre-made stuff, is controversial but in my experience is very cost-effective to buy in pre-made SDS-PAGE gels rather than pour your own. No wasted time on leaking gel apparatus or forgetting to add the Temed and the gels are nice and uniform.

So that’s we don’t miss doing in the lab. How about you?

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  1. Natalie on October 8, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Everyone is accessing research articles directly from the lab computer nowadays: no more trips to the library to make photocopies! Searching through MEDLINE on a CD-ROM was also a bad experience. I tell you, grads have it easy these days. And pouring these sequencing gels was REALLY a pain in the behind.

  2. Tolga on October 7, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Yeah, those old days must have really been the extent that most of those old-time scientist probably did not survive, and those in the minority who did survive could get their independent/real positions before their 30s, compared to us today: safe and comfortable, still grad students/postdocs at mid/late 30s 🙂

    Here’s another one: periodic visits to the library to xerox papers from journals.

  3. s_laub on October 7, 2009 at 5:26 am

    extracting your own restriction enzymes

  4. Alejandro Montenegro-Montero on September 29, 2009 at 2:55 pm


    developing xray films in developer tanks

    I still do that sometimes! lol

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