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Basic Lab Skills and Know-how

Talking When Terrified: Tips for a Nervous Presenter

When I was in school, I absolutely hated giving talks. I was a really nervous presenter, my heart would start beating faster, my face would go red, my hands would shake…even my voice would tremble! Since then I’ve made some big breakthroughs, and now I absolutely love giving talks and lectures. Here are my top…

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How to Write an Effective Lab Protocol

We’ve all been there. You’re looking to replicate a result you have read in a paper, or maybe even one that has come from someone else in your own lab. But try as you might, you can’t get your head around the less than effective lab protocol that’s been provided. Or, worse still, you are…

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Get a Grip: Dealing with Sweaty Glove Hands

Gloves protect the skin from the numerous hazards lurking in research labs. There are many varieties and types of gloves available depending upon your need, whether you want protection from chemical hazards, biological hazards or simply preventing surface contamination. However, a very noticeable side effect of using gloves is ‘sweaty glove hands’. Perhaps many of…

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The How and Why of Limit of Detection

When developing an assay, whether it is for basic research or for use in diagnostics, you will often be asked about your assay’s sensitivity. This is perhaps one of the most important performance characteristics you can determine for an assay, and in regulated work, such as in vitro diagnostic (IVD) development and clinical diagnostics, it…

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To Sonicator and Beyond – Large Cell Volume Lysis Methods

At some point you have to leave small-scale cell lysis and move to large culture volumes for experiments currently in vogue, be it microarrays, total RNA libraries, or large-scale pull-downs for interactome or metabolome analysis. And at this point, you have to change your lysis method from an on-the-bench in eppendorfs to one capable of…

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Four Free and Easy-To-Use Online Primer Design Tools

Designing and running PCR reactions in the lab has become so commonplace that the number of primer design tools available can be a bit overwhelming for a beginner (or even an experienced molecular biologist!). Below are four of my favorite online programs available to make primer design quick, easy, and effective. A quick note before…

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10 Steps to Enjoying Fieldwork for Sedentary Scientists

Note: Physically competent field scientists who find fieldwork a breeze may scoff at the suggestions here As a bench scientist whose only form of physical exercise in the laboratory is pipetting, I vividly remember my first fieldtrip to the wilderness. It was a trip to an island off the coast of Singapore to collect water…

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Ten Tips for Pipetting the 384-Well Plate

I was so excited to start using 384-well plates for my assays. With so many wells, these plates are useful for testing many conditions in parallel, as required in ELISAs, siRNA library screens, and drug treatment dilutions. However, I quickly learned that pipetting in these plates is more complicated than I thought. This article contains…

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Simple Tips for a Clean(-ish) Lab Drawer

Picture it: 6:00 pm on a Friday night. You have one or more experiments running. Maybe you’re doing a western blot, or following a staining protocol for an immunohistochemistry experiment, or just labeling tubes. But rather than working on active experiments, you’re helplessly searching through the lab drawer for that one pair of forceps, that…

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What Is Reproducible Research?

Once upon a time, I thought reproducible research meant if someone else showed X in a paper, then I should be able to get X in my experiment. However, this actually refers to replication, an important but separate concept. Reproducible research is data analysis that starts with the raw data and arrives at the same…

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What to Do During That Awkward One-Minute Spin

We’ve all been there. Twiddling our thumbs. Staring off into space. Pacing back and forth. This is the dreaded one-minute spin. If you’ve dabbled in molecular biology, you’ve likely encountered this awkward time. Not exactly enough time to actually do anything else, but when you’ve got nothing to do but wait, one minute seems like…

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Labeling For Life – Get a Good Self-Tracking Labeling System

When you work in a laboratory, preparing samples sets for many different experiments is a large part of the job. Keeping track of your samples can be tedious or even challenging if you don’t already have a good system in place. However, getting this right is a critical part of the experimental process. In this…

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Genetic Notation: Crack the Code!

Pop Quiz Time: You get a new bacterial strain from a culture collection, but you’re not quite sure what the genetic notation (i.e., all the letters and symbols) means. Do you: A. Cry? B. Ask around to see what your lab mates think? C. Cross your fingers that your friends at Bitesize Bio can help…

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Don’t Let Bubbles Burst Your Experimental Excitement

Bubbles isn’t just the name of my favorite cartoon character from Power Puff girls, or just the best activity for a kid to play with, in general. In my adult world, they stand for a whole lot more, but can still cause extreme emotions. At the lab bench, seeing bubbles brings happiness or sadness depending…

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Earn That Green Thumb! An Introduction to Working in a Greenhouse

If you have worked in a lab before, you probably think you are prepared to work anywhere. You’ve done the safety classes, know how to store the chemicals, even know how to work the chemical shower. Unfortunately, that doesn’t fully prepare you for greenhouse work. Greenhouses are a different kind of greenery-filled animal entirely, and…

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ChemDraw: a Versatile Molecule Sketching Tool for (Bio)Chemists

Have you ever wondered how to make professional, easy-to-understand figures of molecules for presentations or publications? While several programs exist for this purpose, ChemDraw is like the Swiss Army knife of chemical sketching programs that most chemists and journals use to prepare figures. Beyond the ability to create chemically accurate and legible figures, ChemDraw can…

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Water your choices? Understanding Types of Water in the Lab

If you are working in a scientific laboratory, it is very important to be aware of the various types of water available, because the purity may not be acceptable for your specific experimental application. In most labs, there are generally two types of water piped in to the sinks: Industrial Water Industrial water is non-potable…

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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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