RNase, back in the early 1990s, posed a serious threat to laboratories working with RNA isolation. My graduate work involved isolating RNA from the tissues of Lyme disease-infected mice and hamsters. We struggled to DEPC-treat glass and plasticware, or autoclave anything that could be autoclaved, kept tissues cold during RNA harvest and held our breaths (truly, as aerosol could be another source of ribonuclease) until PAGE proved us successful in RNA isolation.
Ribonuclease (RNase) was omnipresent and the arch rival of our work, across several species, due to its RNA destroying abilities.
Now, a July 13, 2015 publication by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison provided both a catch-up for this former lab rat on modern day research with and knowledge of RNase, as well as an exciting look at what may be a real purpose for this RNA-destroying molecule: RNase has moved to clinical trials due to the discovery of it’s cytotoxicity for cancer cells.
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.