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A Beginner’s Guide to Storing Biological Materials

In a typical biology lab, you may encounter many types of biological materials, including cells, bodily fluids, purified DNA and RNA, enzymes, bacterial cultures, body parts, and whole animals. In order to perform experiments that yield quality results, samples need to be stored properly in order to preserve their activity or integrity.

Beginning students and others who are unfamiliar with biological labs should attempt to learn as soon as possible the different storage and handling requirements for different types of biological materials, and, in particular, what sorts of abuse these materials can withstand before being considered “lost” or “ruined.”

The inspiration for this article came from an incident during my very early days in the lab, when I accidentally left a 12-well plate of virus-infected cell culture on the power supply box of the fluorescence microscope overnight. The heat from the power supply warmed the plate to what felt like 40 degrees Celsius, and when I found it the next morning, I panicked. It had taken a week to grow this culture, and it was part of a time-lag experiment, so writing it off as a loss was not an option. I searched online frantically for something that would tell me what condition my cells might be in. It was an odd scenario that proved difficult to resolve by Googling.

While I searched, I realized how useful it would be to have a table of storage conditions and handling requirements for various biological samples – perhaps even something that can be posted in the lab. So, for those of you who have also panicked over the condition of your materials, here it is!

Are there any materials that I’ve missed here?

4 Comments

  1. JackBean on October 24, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Where did you get that PCR products cannot hold >4°C for more than few minutes? We turn off the thermocycler after PCR and there was no problem with that.

  2. Gina Riggio on August 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Thanks! I always wanted something like this when I was first learning my way around the lab. I want to leave it up for comments for a while and see what other suggestions I get. After that, I want to make a PDF of this and print it out for our lab wall! Especially with fall starting and new undergrads coming in.

  3. jennthegenius on August 3, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Thank you for posting this!

  4. colinhockings on July 30, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Very nice, Gina.

    I might add antibodies but I don’t know the rules. I guess it’s dependent on the antibody and the buffer conditions.

    In our lab we say that lysates for protein analysis should be at -80oC for a few months, unless they’re in Laemmli buffer, in which case they can be at -20 for a few months

    Also, we have purified recombinant proteins (from E. coli or other) at 4oC for a few weeks or snap-frozen (once) at -80oC

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