Simply Not Your Mother’s RNA: Wish I’d Had This In the Lab…

No more ultra centrifuge nightmares
We were reminiscing recently about early lab experiences when the topic of isolating RNA over a cesium chloride gradient came up. When I began my scientific training, cesium chloride preps were the standard for nucleic acid purification. In my experience the cesium chloride prep invariably began with me sweating as I tried to get my tubes perfectly balanced before their spins in the ultra centrifuge. After balancing my tubes, I would place them securely in a rack then search for a reliable post doc or technician to double- and triple-check my already quadruple-checked measurements and watch me as I set up the centrifuge and started my spin.

I would return to my other work, listening for the first sign of wobble or unbalance. Then, eventually, I would tear myself away from the laboratory and return home, tossing and turning all night as an unbalanced centrifuge lumbered Frankenstein-like through my dreams firing projectiles through cinder block walls and throwing itself from the second floor window.

The next day would find me relieved to retrieve my tubes from the ice cold centrifuge, and into the dark room I would go, armed with gloves and UV-protective glasses and a heated single-edged razor blade, prepared to free the captive RNA pellet from its position at the bottom of the polypropylene tube.
It wasn’t long into my scientific career that the cesium chloride prep was replaced with a host of commercial reagents and kits that promised undegraded RNA suitable for Northerns or primer-extension experiments. I still panicked when working with RNA, but my panic was limited to the ubiquitous RNases that lurked in every tube and solution.

As I finish work on the Technical Manual for the newest product in RNA purification that Promega is launching, I am really tempted to don my “old codger” hat and complain that when I was in graduate school I had to trudge uphill through the snow both ways everyday, and that today’s graduate student has it too easy. But I won’t. I spent a lot of time slogging through cesium chloride preps and other home-brew, labor-intensive protocols, often to end up with degraded or not enough product to do the experiment that I really wanted to do.

So as I look at the protocols that accompany the new Maxwell® 16 simplyRNA Cells and Tissue Kits, what I really think is “Wow, wouldn’t it have been nice to have had an automated RNA isolation method?” I could have spent less time slicing ultra centrifuge tubes with heated razor blades and more time focusing on the experiments that really mattered. And hopefully, that will be the single greatest advantage of the simplyRNA kits, the freedom to focus on whatever work is truly important in your lab life.

Just curious, what other lab techniques are some of you “old timers” glad to see fade into distant memory?

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Michele Arduengo

Social Media Manager at Promega Corporation
Michele earned her B.A. in biology at Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, and her PhD through the BCDB Program at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Michele is the social media manager at Promega and managing editor of the Promega Connections blog. She enjoys getting lost in a good book, trumpet playing, knitting, and snowshoeing.


  1. Michele, the first lab I worked in didn’t have a lot of pipetmen (does anyone use that word anymore?) laying around. One day I was making plates for plaque counting and mouth pipetted some crystal violet. The intention was to not apply too much suction, but somehow the crystal violet was past the cotton plug and in my mouth (did I mention this was my first lab job?). My labmate disappeared while I rubbed my teeth and tongue with ethanol, hoping to remove the stain. A steady succession of coworkers trickled into the lab, initiating conversation so they could see my purple tinted teeth. A decidedly low tech story, but taught me to use a pipettor.

    1. I was so amazed at my first lab position out of undergrad–not only did every person have her own set of “pipetmen”, but they had real ice buckets with tops. Really high class.

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