High-Throughput Purification with Experts Included

Implementing automated nucleic acid purification or making changes to your high-throughput (HT) workflow can be complicated and time-consuming. There are also many barriers to success such as challenging samples types and maintaining desirable downstream results that can add to the stress, not to mention actually getting the robotic instrumentation to do what you want it to. All of this makes it easy to understand why many labs avoid automating or own expensive instrumentation that goes unused. Continue reading

A Crash Course in CRISPR

CRISPR is a hot topic right now, and rightly so—it is revolutionizing research that relies on editing genes. But what exactly is CRISPR? How does it work? Why is everyone so interested in using it? Today’s blog is a beginner’s guide on how CRISPR works with an overview of some new applications of this technology for those familiar with CRISPR.

Introduction to CRISPR/Cas9

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Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) were discovered in 1987, but it took 30 years before scientists identified their function. CRISPRs are a special kind of repeating DNA sequence that bacteria have as part of their “immune” system against invading nucleic acids from viruses and other bacteria. Over time, the genetic material from these invaders can be incorporated into the bacterial genome as a CRISPR and used to target specific sequences found in foreign genomes.

CRISPRs are part of a system within a bacterium that requires a nuclease (e.g. Cas9), a single guide RNA (sgRNA) and a tracrRNA. The tracrRNA recruits Cas9, while sgRNA binds to Cas9 and guides it to the corresponding DNA sequence of the invading genome. Cas9 then cuts the DNA, creating a double-stranded break that disables its function. Bacteria use a Protospacer Adjacent Motif, or PAM, sequence near the target sequence to distinguish between self and non-self and protect their own DNA.

While this system is an effective method of protection for bacteria, CRISPR/Cas9 has been manipulated in order to perform gene editing in a lab (click here for a video about CRISPR). First, the tracrRNA and sgRNA are combined into a single molecule. Then the sequence of the guide portion of this RNA is changed to match the target sequence. Using this engineered sgRNA along with Cas9 will result in a double-stranded break (DSB) in the target DNA sequence, provided the target sequence is adjacent to a compatible PAM sequence. Continue reading

How to Isolate RNA like a Pro

Ribbon diagram of RNA’s biggest threat: a ribonuclease

Ribbon diagram of RNA’s biggest threat: a ribonuclease

Back in graduate school, I purified a lot of RNA, and after a while, I became fairly successful at it. My yields were good, and the RNA was intact. However, many of my early attempts at RNA isolation yielded degraded RNA that did not work well in many downstream applications. In my case, successfully isolating high-quality RNA required practice. During my trials and tribulations, I learned a lot of tricks and tips about how to obtain high-quality RNA. Here I share some of these tricks to help you speed through that “practice makes perfect” phase so that you can isolate RNA like a pro.

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Methods for Quantitating Your Nucleic Acid Sample

Nucleic acid quanitation webinarFor most molecular biology applications, knowing the amount of nucleic acid present in your purified sample is important. However, one quantitation method might serve better than another, depending on your situation, or you may need to weigh the benefits of a second method to assess the information from the first. Our webinar “To NanoDrop® or Not to NanoDrop®: Choosing the Most Appropriate Method for Nucleic Acid Quantitation” given by Doug Wieczorek, one of our Applications Scientists, discussed three methods for quantitating nucleic acid and outlined their strengths and weaknesses. Continue reading

Don’t Let Ribonucleases Ruin Your Week(end): Establish a Ribonuclease-free Environment

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My very first job in science was in a lab that worked exclusively with RNA, and it was only after I moved on to a different job that I learned just how much different the world of DNA research is from that of RNA. When working with DNA, for example, you rarely if ever have the sample you have labored over reduced to a fuzzy blur at the bottom of a gel because it has been degraded beyond rescue. With RNA, unfortunately, this happens all too frequently. In fact, a labmate of mine once put up a poll on the door to our lab asking if it was better to discover that your RNA sample was degraded on a Monday or a Friday.

The culprits in this scenario are Ribonucleases (RNases). They are everywhere. They are incredibly stable and difficult to inactivate. And, if you work with RNA, they are your enemy. Take heart though, they can be defeated if you follow some pretty simple steps. Continue reading

Working with RNA

Set up a lab RNA Zone

Working with RNA can be a tricky thing…it falls apart easily, and RNases (enzymes that degrade RNA) are ubiquitous. Successfully isolating RNA and maintaining its integrity is critical, especially when sensitive downstream applications are used (e.g., RNA-Seq).

Good techniques for RNA handling are simple to employ but crucial for success. All RNA purification and handling should take place in an RNase-free, RNA-only zone of the lab. Segregating RNA work from protein and DNA purification and handling will help minimize the potential for RNase contamination and help keep your RNA intact. Only buffer and water stocks treated to be RNase-free should be kept in the RNA area of the lab, and gloves should be worn at all times to prevent accidental contamination. Tools and equipment such as pipets, tips, and centrifuges should be designated for use only in the RNA zone as well. The location of the RNA zone in the lab is also important. Keeping traffic to a minimum and moving the RNA zone away from doors, windows, and vents can also help minimize contamination.

Using an RNase inhibitorcan also help safeguard your samples from RNase degradation. These inhibitors can bind to any RNases that may have been introduced into your sample and prevent them from cutting the RNA present.

Water and buffer stocks can be a source of RNase contamination. Several stocks from an RNase-free zone in an academic lab showed RNase activity. Recombinant RNasin® inhibitor protected all RNA samples from degradation.

Mapping Protein-RNA Interactions in vivo Using the HITS-CLIP Method

RNA recognition domain from RNA Binding Protein 19 (source: protein database www.pdb.org)

Aberrant RNA binding protein (RBP) function has been implicated in a host of human diseases from various cancers, neurological disorders, and conditions related to muscular atrophy (1). Understanding RBP function requires not only a working knowledge of the protein proper, but accurate methods to identify RNA binding partners in vivo.  Identification of RNA binding partners has historically been difficult, especially for RNA targets involved in nervous system disorders. Methods for finding targets have involved in vitro RNA selection or co-immunoprecipitation followed by gene chip analysis (2,3). These approaches came with some inhert limitations. The signal to noise ratio is low and the ability to differentiate between direct and indirect interactions is limited. Additionally, since the RNA-protein interactions are so complex, any of the in vitro methods may not be wholly predictive of true intracellular interactions.

In 2003, researchers at the Laboratory of Molecular Neuro-Oncology at Rockefeller University developed a method to purify protein-RNA complexes from mouse brain tissue that utilized ultraviolet cross-linking of RNA to their protein binding partners and immunoprecipitation of the cross-linked product (4). Further development of the technology has resulted in a streamlined protocol to perform high-throughput sequencing of RNA isolated by crosslinking immunoprecipitation (HITS-CLIP; 5). Continue reading