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Basic Lab Skills and Know-how

Get a Grip: Dealing with Sweaty Glove Hands

Using gloves in the lab is necessary for safety but can result in the dreaded “sweaty glove hands”. Read our top tips on how to banish those sweaty palms for good (or for at least as long as it takes to do your experiment)!

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6 Laboratory Sterilization Methods

Effective laboratory sterilization methods are essential for working with isolated cell lines. Read our guide to the top 6 sterilization techniques to banish those bugs.

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Antibiotic Disposal in the Lab: Simple Tips to Get it Right

Have you ever given thought to how you are disposing of antibiotics in the lab and whether or not it’s correct? Discover the problems associated with improper antibiotic disposal and how to correctly dispose of different antibiotics in the lab.

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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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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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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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