The Benefits of Hindsight

One of the nice things about working in a biotechnology company is the opportunity to learn about new products as they are developed and to get exposed to scientific disciplines outside of my original area of expertise. Since I came to Promega I have had the opportunity to learn about a large number of products for widely differing research applications including cell biology, forensics, nucleic acid purification, and drug screening.

Over the years I have seen quite a few products that made me think “I wish I had that back when I was in the lab”. Even although there are a lot of “sexier” products around, the number 1 item that would have made my life in the lab better is still the 10-minute plasmid prep kit. In the labs I worked in we tried to save money and do our own minipreps, and it was tedious indeed. It turns out I am not alone in this sentiment, home-made plasmid minipreps came in at #9 on this list of “techniques we are most glad we don’t have to do any more” on BiteSize bio.

Home made minipreps. I may not have been the greenest-fingered scientist that ever lived but the failure rate of my home-made minipreps was pretty big, especially when I did many of them at once. Thank goodness for miniprep kits.

I can add a hearty Amen to that.

I asked some other scientists around here what products would have made their life easier back in the day. Here are a couple of responses:

A luciferase reporter sssay

My post-doctoral research was centered around the interaction of diphtheria toxin and its receptor. Diphtheria toxin shuts down translation very effectively. We used a 3H-leucine assay to follow the stoppage of translation. I can only imagine how much easier my life would have been had I used a simple, SV40- or CMV-promoter driven luciferase reporter as an indicator of a functional translation system. The fact that I wouldn’t have had to do any radiation safety paperwork or radiation surveys would have been worth it.

CellTiter-Glo Luminescent Cell Viability Assay

My graduate work was filled with cell proliferation assays monitoring the ability of prolactin to induce proliferation of the NB2 lymphoma cell line. This was our bioassay for modified prolactin and unique inhibitors of prolactin. The method of judging the proliferation was to count cells with a hemocytometer. I tried using MTT to judge proliferation but it turns out that B-cell lymphomas are a problem for MTT. If only the CellTiter-Glo Assay had been around! The simple add-mix-measure assay relating ATP content to cell viability would have saved me loads of time and saved countless hours of dull, boring manual counting.

Aside from the frustration of thinking “Not fair, I wish I had had that!”, it has been interesting to see how the continued development of faster, better, more convenient products and kits have accelerated the pace of research. I wonder which of today’s techniques will make tomorrow’s list of “things we are glad we don’t have to do anymore?”

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Isobel Maciver

Isobel is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and of Aston University in Birmingham, U.K. She is a technical writer and editor, and is also manager of the Scientific Communications group at Promega. She enjoys writing about issues in science and communication.

One thought on “The Benefits of Hindsight

  1. Hi Isobel,

    Digital photography. Back in the day, we were shooting fluorescent micrographs on 35mm film, creating 35mm slides or negatives, and then making prints or converting the slides (via Cibachrome processes) to prints.

    I would often find myself in the darkroom at 3 am the night before leaving for a meeting trying to produce the perfect prints for a poster or create the perfect figure for a grant application at the 11th hour.

    The acetic acid in the photographic solutions was particularly irritating to me and never ceased to cause headaches. Oh to have been able to sit a a computer and crop figures in Photoshop.

    Michele

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