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Dr Rebecca Tirabassi

Rebecca S. Tirabassi received her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology studying the pathogenesis of herpesviruses. After her postdoctoral fellowship, she spent 6 years working in biotech followed by 3 years as a scientist at academic institutions. She is currently the owner of Scientific Pens, LLC, a company that provides research, writing, editing and consulting services for life scientists. In addition to writing for BitesizeBio, she is the voice behind the WiKi and Blog at Advansta.com. She also writes a personal blog entitled Mad Scientist.Crazy Mom in which she talks about surviving life with 5 kids and a menagerie of animals while trying to keep her scientific mind happy (aka occasionally writing about scientific topics that interest her - like herpesviruses).

Articles by Dr Rebecca Tirabassi:

To (Science) Blog or Not to (Science) Blog

Look out technical science writing, there’s an alternative voice in town. In the past decade, bloggers have taken to their keyboards and changed the voice of the internet. With their relaxed writing styles and ability to impart wisdom in a few short paragraphs, most of the online population consumes science blogs. Although scientists are often…

04 Jan 2017 Science Communication & Ethics

What I Learned as a Grant Reviewer

A few years ago, when I was working for a biotechnology company, I got a special letter in the mail.  The NIH asked me to be an ad-hoc grant reviewer for small business grants. Although I drew these lessons from the NIH grant review process, they can probably be applied to many granting agencies.  If…

12 Oct 2016 Getting Funded&Writing, Publishing and Presenting

A Protein Biochemist’s Bag of Tricks

If you were to peek into a protein biochemist’s bag of tricks, what would you find? A mortar and pestle for collecting samples, some columns for isolating proteins and a mass spec instrument? Perhaps. But what about those little eppendorf tubes full of enzymes and helpful molecules? Certainly, each scientist has his/her own favorite. Here…

14 May 2015 Protein Expression and Analysis

When the Words Won’t Come: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Whether you are writing your thesis, a manuscript or a grant, there will come a time when you need to write, but getting words onto the paper will be like trying to get DNA from a rock – you are pretty sure it ain’t going to happen. Luckily there are a few tricks you can…

09 Mar 2015 Writing, Publishing and Presenting

Seven Tips for Working From Home Successfully

You are a scientist. You run experiments in the lab, but also spend a lot of time analyzing data, writing, doing literature searches, writing, reading and did I say writing? The good news: You can do some of your work from home. The bad news: You can do some of your work from home. Working…

11 Feb 2015 Organization and Productivity

Surviving Lab Life After Having Kids

  Having kids changes your life.  I should know, I have 5 little F1’s running around. Your life is thrown into chaos the minute you hear that first cry.  And it isn’t only your personal life that changes.  Eventually you have to figure out how to fold your new parenting responsibilities into your lab life.…

19 Jan 2015 Organization and Productivity

Dressing Up Your Oligonucleotide

Oligonucleotides are those smallish bits of DNA or RNA that we rely so heavily on for many of our molecular biology experiments. In their naked form, they are single, inert strands of DNA or RNA bases. But if you dress them up, you can increase their functionality. Here are some of the common oligo wardrobe…

07 Nov 2014 DNA / RNA Manipulation and Analysis

How to Identify Supercoils, Nicks and Circles in Plasmid Preps

One of my favorite things to do with a student the first time they work with DNA plasmid preps is to have them run an agarose gel containing 2 samples:  uncut plasmid DNA, and plasmid DNA that has been linearized with an restriction enzyme.  I love to have them try and figure out the banding…

08 Oct 2014 DNA / RNA Manipulation and Analysis

Six Benefits to Working in the Lab on the Weekend

I used to love working in the lab on Saturdays.  No, I didn’t spend every Saturday in the lab and yes, I did have a life outside of the lab (that’s one reason Saturday work was so great).  But there are some great benefits to working in the lab on the weekend: Beat the commute…

25 Aug 2014 Fun Stuff

SuperSize It! Scaling Up Your Experiments

Life in the lab is easy-peasy when you are only prepping a handful of tubes. But what if you need to scale up to 10’s or even 100’s of samples? Scaling up your experiments can have some expected and some not-so-expected, leaving you in a lurch, consequences. Read through our tips so you aren’t caught…

20 Aug 2014 Basic Lab Skills and Know-how

The Magic Continues: TOPO Cloning

They say a magician is never supposed to tell the secret behind his tricks.  It’s a good thing then that I am a molecular biologist and not an illusionist.  Because once I learn a good trick, I feel the need to spread it like dandelion seeds floating on a breeze. That’s what inspired me to…

20 Jun 2014 DNA / RNA Manipulation and Analysis

How to quality control check your RNA samples

You finally have your RNA in hand.  Now what? The success of downstream applications, such as microarrays and quantitative RT-PCR, relies upon having high quality, intact RNA. So it is worth your while to make sure you have a good RNA preparation before jumping into your experiments. There are three things you want to check…

21 Mar 2014 DNA / RNA Manipulation and Analysis

Ta-Da! The Magic of Taq and TA Cloning

Sometimes a clever little trick for cloning comes along that makes you just give an appreciatory “ahhh.” For me, it was TA cloning.  TA cloning is not a new technique (I am showing my advanced laboratory age here), but when I discovered it, the simple elegance of the technique made me pause and wonder about…

07 Mar 2014 DNA / RNA Manipulation and Analysis

Buying a Secondary Antibody: Why all the Choices?

So you grab a quick 5 minutes in between lectures to sit down and tackle an item on your to-do list: order a secondary antibody for an upcoming experiment.  But when you start to search your favorite secondary antibody provider’s website, you realize it is not going to be a 5 minute job.  Conjugated, F(ab’)2…

03 Mar 2014 Basic Lab Skills and Know-how

Brahe’s Battles: The Outcome

What do science and rapping have in common?  Usually not much.  Unless you happen to be Tom McFadden that is, and then rapping becomes a tool for teaching kids about science. Tom McFadden is no stranger to music and science.  Tom is a science communicator whose hit single, Regulatin’ Genes, garnered him national recognition.  In…

24 Feb 2014 Science Communication & Ethics

Counting On Your Results – Tips And Technologies For Colony/Plaque Counting

Have you ever emerged from the lab, bleary-eyed, blinking dazedly at the sun after spending hours hunched over a lab bench counting endless bacterial colonies or viral plaques? A necessary evil… I consider colony/plaque counting one of the necessary evils of working with microorganisms.  Necessary because many experiments have an endpoint that requires determining the…

03 Sep 2013 Protein Expression and Analysis

What is Sterile? Find Your Way around a Sterile Tissue Culture Hood

You’ve been told that maintaining a sterile environment in a tissue culture hood is vital to preventing contamination of cell cultures. But what exactly is meant by sterile? The definition of sterile is ‘completely clean, sanitized, and free of all forms of life’. Obviously you still want your cells and/or any other organisms you are…

07 Aug 2013 Cells and Model Organisms

RNases can be Useful Too

Ribonucleases (RNases). We’ve been giving them a hard time here lately. We’ve been talking about how they are the bane of the lives of  researchers who work with RNA. And we’ve told you how to find their weaknesses and shown you a myriad of weapons that you can use to kick their RNase butts. But…

09 Apr 2013 DNA / RNA Manipulation and Analysis

Surviving the Big Chill: Freezing and Thawing Mammalian Cells

Cryopreservation is crucial to long-term maintenance of cells. Not even the most diligent and dedicated scientist is capable of maintaining a cell line day in and day out for years. Additionally, cells can change properties, senesce, or, ooops (!) become contaminated as the length of time in culture increases. Freezing and resuscitating your cells can…

03 Apr 2013 Cells and Model Organisms

Cell Culture on a Budget: Homemade Fixes

Mammalian cell culture can easily deplete grant funds and a lot of companies are eager to help you with this! But you don’t always have to buy fancy equipment or hot new reagents to get the job done. Sometimes you can alter protocols to use expensive reagents sparingly. Here are a few tips I have…

06 Mar 2013 Cells and Model Organisms

6 ways to show your plasmid preps some TLC and get more supercoiled plasmid in return

In my last article, I explained that plasmid DNA recovered from a plasmid prep consists of few different species; supercoiled, nicked, linear and single stranded circular, and how you can distinguish them on a gel. Supercoiled DNA is the desired form of plasmid DNA; it performs better in downstream applications such as automated sequencing and…

29 Jan 2013 DNA / RNA Manipulation and Analysis

Outgrown the Roost: A Quick Protocol for Passaging Adherent Cells

Your cells have dutifully “sat down”, stuck to the bottom of the dish and replicated, replicated, replicated. You see a swarm of cells that have reached confluency and filled the entire plate. It is time to split them. This can be a relatively easy ritual, but missteps can lead to dead floating cells and the…

23 Jan 2013 Cells and Model Organisms

Outgrown the Roost: Passaging Adherent Cells, the Basic Process

Splitting, passaging, subculturing… whatever you call it, while the specifics of passaging adherent cells will depend upon the individual cell type, the basic process involves four simple steps. These basic steps are outlined below while a sample quick protocol can be found here. Rinse Cells With a Balanced Salt Solution (BSS) Prior to detaching cells…

16 Jan 2013 Cells and Model Organisms

Tips for Choosing and Using a New Primary Antibody

Finding a good primary antibody can often feel like playing Russian roulette.  Nothing is more disappointing than buying a $300 antibody that doesn’t work for your use. There are some steps you can take, however, to increase your likelihood of success. Scout out Other Labs Before you buy, ask if anyone around you or in…

14 Jan 2013 Protein Expression and Analysis

How Do YOU Stain Your DNA?

Visualization of DNA in gels is one of the most common procedures a molecular biologist can perform.  In a good day, I can run at least 4 different DNA gels!  When I was trained, ethidium bromide (EtBr) was the only viable option to easily visualize small amounts of electrophoresed DNA.  However, safer and more sensitive…

26 Oct 2012 DNA / RNA Manipulation and Analysis

Quick Protocol: How to Work Safely and Effectively with a Biological Safety Cabinet / Culture Hood

Before using any Biological Safety Cabinet (BSC) for the first time, have a person with working knowledge of the machine give you an overview of how to use the cabinet. Different labs have different protocols in regards to running the cabinet, disinfecting the cabinet, determining which pathogens that may be used in the cabinet and…

16 Jul 2012 Cells and Model Organisms

3 Ways to Abuse Biological Safety Cabinets

As we learned in my previous article, cell culture hoods have many names. As if that wasn’t enough, they are all-too-often misunderstood and mistreated, which can lead to dangerous situations harmful for both the worker and the general lab environment. Here are three common ways that workers abuse biological safety cabinets; make sure you don’t…

11 Jul 2012 Cells and Model Organisms

Biological Safety Cabinets and Culture Hoods: Know The Difference

Biological safety cabinets, laminar flow hoods, clean hoods and culture hoods are all common names for those essential pieces of equipment that you use in cell culturing. The terms are used inter-changeably, but in fact there are lots of different types of culture hoods, each of which does a different job. Knowing which is which…

09 Jul 2012 Cells and Model Organisms

How to to Speed up Commercial Midi and Maxi Plasmid Preps

Commercial kits for isolation of large quantities of plasmid DNA generally rely on standard alkaline lysis followed by an affinity chromatography column-based method to purify DNA. Compared to traditional cesium chloride banding or PEG precipitation of plasmid DNA they are a breeze, and have the added benefit of avoiding use of toxic or hazardous chemicals…

11 May 2012 DNA / RNA Manipulation and Analysis

Wasting Antibodies Doesn’t Float Your Boat? Try Floating Your Blot Instead!

Western blots may be great for visualizing protein expression, but they can be a perfect way to waste your precious antibody stocks if you follow the normal protocol. Thankfully, you don’t have to follow the normal protocol any more; here’s how to get great blots with a fraction of the antibody usage. I have tried…

09 May 2012 Protein Expression and Analysis