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4 Great Websites for Bench Scientists

Posted in: Software and Online Tools
An image of lab furniture to depict how not to wreck your autoclave.

Friends and colleagues are excellent sources of scientific information. The Internet is too, because it is a virtual library at your fingertips. If you are looking for a great solution to a common problem (i.e. how to eliminate RNAse contamination in a laboratory), the information is waiting for you. For help with more difficult problems (i.e. RNA yield from an experiment is unexpectedly too low), helpful solutions are out there somewhere. You just have to have an idea of where to begin looking for it.

That said, here are four Internet sites that I like to reference for information:

BioTechniques MolecularBiology Techniques Forums

BioTechniques organizes topical discussion by category where you can learn about molecular biology, cell culture, bioinformatics, general laboratory methods and laboratory life.

I always enjoy reading of first-hand user experience with commercial kits. Even for my own work, forum topics led me to consider using a dyed glycogen co-precipitant when extracting very small amounts of RNA.

And while BioTechniques is a great place to discuss science, don’t forget about the link above (“Questions”) where BitesizeBio makes it available for readers to ask and answer scientific questions. Interestingly enough, the BioTechniques forum was how I found my way to BitesizeBio.


Every laboratory has their own personalized way of doing things. The end result is the same (i.e. DNA/RNA/Protein extracted from samples) but getting there is just variations on a common theme. I appreciate that. Having a resource that links to protocols from websites, laboratories, journals and companies allows me to compare and contrast other successful methods with my laboratory’s methods. This allows us to see where we can improve upon our methods to become more efficient.

From animals to plants, and all the subjects in between, there is something for everybody. Protocol Online has been linking to laboratory methods since 1999.

Wolfram|AlphaComputational Knowledge Engine

When all you need is to look up an equation, constant, technical information about a chemical, gene or something else, look no further than Wolfram|Alpha. Type your query into it’s knowledge engine and get information presented (even computed!) quickly. How you describe your search matters. It may take a few tries to learn how to appropriately structure your words. Don’t worry, if you’re close on spelling, it will suggest alternatives.

Try it out on a gene like “tyrosine hydroxylase mouse” – or even the “Henderson-Hasselbalch Equation.” Another query could be for a basic reagent like “200ml 0.2M TRIS.” Can you use it to give you the amount of ingredients required for more complex reagents? Give it a try! If you’re successful, please share with us your thoughts about the process.

Allen Brain Atlas

Allen Brain Atlas Resources [Internet]. Seattle (WA): Allen Institute for Brain Science. ©2009. Available from:

My first bench experiments began with immunohistochemistry (IHC). I found the Allen Brain Atlas useful as a “gold-standard” reference. Their coronal atlas depicts various brain slices on one side of an image with corresponding regions labeled in the other. Coupled with their ISH Data section, I could preview a gene and get a general sense of where gene expression could appear.

Above all, I love interactive tools! Their web-based brain and ISH data explorers are useful, however their Brain Explorer software is even better. Grab some of their gene expression data, render it in a 3D brain and go exploring!


When I started working as a research assistant I learned a lot about experimental methods in a very short amount of time. Some learning was by trial and error, some was by learning from my colleagues’ experiences, and even more was by reading as much as I could get my hands on.

Even today, these are still a few of my favorite resources…what are some of yours?


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