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Basic Lab Skills and Know-how

Running your Lab on a Shoestring Budget

We live in challenging times for academic biomedical research. The success rates for research grants have declined precipitously over the years. Under these circumstances, it is never too soon to take proactive measures to protect your research budget in the event of a funding lapse. We usually know months ahead of time when grant support…

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How to Pour Agar Plates in a Pinch

Every lab has a culture, a vibe of its own. Nowhere does the distinct character of the lab become most apparent than the way in which the lab chooses to pour agar plates. You may have heard or been told to pour plates at some point in your lab career. These “plates” could be called…

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Outsourcing Research: Should Your Experiment Spend Some Time Away from You?

As a researcher, it’s satisfying to manage your own projects and do the bench work yourself. After all, if you don’t have experience with a technique, you’re usually expected to figure it out (with or without direct supervision). In some situations, dealing with difficult molecular techniques is simply part of the job description. The scientific…

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Are Proteins Adsorbing to Your Labware?

One of my favorite things about being a biochemist is to imagine everything at the molecular level—sometimes, in very corny ways. I envision the proteins I pipet and mix as dynamic characters in a molecular soap opera that intermingle with each other in complex ways. The biomolecular characters in my soap opera interact and react,…

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Making the Most of Quiet Days in the Lab: From Gloomy to Glorious

It’s Monday morning. You arrive in the lab armed with a large coffee and feeling rested after a non-lab weekend. You check your email and calendar and peek into your PI’s office. Today will be a rare non-experimental day, a day that some love and others dread: a day to clean up and get ready…

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Cut My Gene into Pieces– Introduction to Restriction Enzyme Cloning

At the heart of cloning are restriction enzymes. Restriction enzymes are a common tool in any molecular biology lab. Need to know how large your plasmid is? Cut it with a restriction enzyme. Need to chop your genomic DNA into smaller pieces for a southern hybridization or to prepare a library? Use a restriction enzyme.…

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Working in a Cold Room Without a Parka?

Have you ever needed to work in a cold room for a long period of time? For example, if you need to dialyze or purify a protein of interest that is temperature sensitive, working in a 4°C cold room might be the only way to accomplish the work. Well, you are in luck. I dislike…

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How to Choose the Right Pipette Tips for your Experiment

The precision and accuracy of even the best calibrated pipette can be wiped out if you choose the wrong kind of tips. Depending on the experiment you are doing, the wrong kind of tips can also make your pipette a source of contamination, lead to waste of precious samples or reagents—or even cause you physical…

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Starting Up a New Lab: What you Need to Know

Here’s a few things to take into consideration when starting up a new lab. Starting anything new is understandably overwhelming, but let’s break it down and go through the main points of designing your own laboratory. Purpose of Your New Lab The purpose and function of your proposed lab sets the course for the tasks…

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Hot, Frozen, Sublimed and Blown: Biological Sample Storage Methods Summarized – Part One

I’ve recently been doing some lyophilization of biological extracts. While I was preparing for the experiment, I became interested in the number of different methods there are for drying, concentrating and storing samples: freezing, freeze-drying, rotary evaporation, centrifugal evaporation and blow down drying. Here is a brief description of each technique for biological sample storage…

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Hot, Frozen, Sublimed And Blown: Sample Storage Methods Summarized – Part Two

In part one, I discussed the ‘how to’ of simply freezing samples and the basics of vacuum evaporation, often referred to as speed vacing. Now, we’ll have a look at two more complex sample storage techniques (at least in terms of equipment) for drying samples (lyophilizaton and rotary evaporation) and the simpler method of blow…

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The Top Three Tips for Lab Etiquette

Whether someone is new to lab work period or just new to your lab, it’s important to be sure that they know the top three tips for lab etiquette for the benefit of everyone’s safety and sanity.

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Top Tips to Avoid Multi-sample Labeling Chaos

Imagine pipetting your publication experiment and then your favourite lab mate has an urgent question, which of course you helpfully answer. But when you finally turn back to your experiment you suddenly are not sure which pipetting step you were at. It’s happened to us all! Efficiently keeping track of your samples in a sometimes…

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Catalyzing Through Confusion: Making (Some) Sense of Enzyme Units

On the surface, it would seem easy enough to pick an enzyme (or an amount of enzyme) for an experiment. Just look at the concentration on the label, adjust accordingly, and you’re on your way. Alas, not with enzymes. The number of units used to measure enzymes is dizzying. However, it’s better now than it…

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Shaky, Steady, Go! Give Tremors the Shake

Performing a surgery or extracting tissue from your experimental animal, when you are a beginner, can set you off with involuntary trembling. Strong dyskinesia symptoms appear out of nowhere. The shaking can hinder your otherwise flawless execution of the task. And yes, it’s irritating that it occurs precisely at the moment when you need your…

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The Multi-skilled Scientist: Key Skills for All Scientists to Master

Although bench work is an integral part of becoming a successful scientist, it is by no means the only part of it. It is often the uncredited skill set possessed by many seasoned scientists that make them so valuable to employers and to further research. In this article I will highlight the less obvious skills…

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The Five Essentials of Organizing Laboratory Samples

If you look closely, there’s a scenario that plays out frequently in labs across the world: A scientist sits hunched over dry ice searching exhaustedly through frozen boxes for one sample that has disappeared into the abyss. The tube or specimen in question was likely catalogued at some point in time. But, between then and…

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