Whether you enjoy watching films, listening to music, or painting in your spare time, art plays a major part of our everyday lives. Films today are seen by hundreds of millions of people worldwide—let’s be honest, who hasn’t seen Avengers: Endgame?—and are generally critiqued on their artistic merits, whether the reviewer is a trained critic or not. However, the connection between art and its influence on science (and vice versa) isn’t always as apparent. What’s certain is that art shares many similarities to the scientific method, with lessons that can help scientists as they make new discoveries and try to place them in a broader context.
When working in a lab, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by excessive workloads. Clinical labs are regularly inundated with patient specimens, while biomedical research often requires large-scale experiments involving hundreds to thousands of samples, with multiple steps per assay. Here are some tips to help you cope with high-volume assignments as well as the stress that can come with them.
Just a couple years ago, I was a research associate working at McGill University in the Meakins-Christie Laboratories, studying a rare disease called lymphangioleiomyomatosis, or LAM. LAM is a progressive, cystic disease afflicting young women with noncancerous lung tumors that can destroy lung function, making the disease potentially fatal. My job was to understand where these tumors came from and what made them propagate throughout the lungs. There was one unfortunate caveat: no one had been able to grow LAM tumor cells outside of the body. As anyone who has ever worked with cancer biology can attest to, there are a multitude of immortalized cancer cell lines, grown from the cells of a patient’s tumor, that can be studied to perform pre-clinical translational research. And yet, not a single representative cell line was available for LAM. Thankfully, my supervisor set me up with just the right project to help solve this puzzle, which centered around induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).
When you hear 3D printing, what do you think of? Perhaps you imagine creating inanimate objects like chairs, wrenches, or toys out of construction materials (e.g. plastic, ceramic, or metal). The uses of additive printing have evolved way past that and now serve an important role in medicine and research.
The main purpose of any vaccine is to stop the spread of communicable diseases from one person to another and, where possible, to abolish the disease outright from the general population. There are many commercially available vaccines for a variety of viral and bacterial diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, measles, polio, tuberculosis, hepatitis, human papillomavirus, and influenza. To develop these and other vaccines, three things are required: research to find an antigen (usually a protein produced by the pathogen) that produces a protective immune response against the disease, a platform in which to produce the vaccine, and clinical testing.
Science has recently begun to establish some of the tools that might let us develop a form of synthetic life. Developing cells from scratch ought to let us understand a whole lot more about what actually constitutes a living organism, while making it possible to generate simpler (yet no less sophisticated) life-like organisms that can be more predictably manipulated.1
Throughout the last several years, scientists have been debating whether there is a reproducibility crisis in biomedical research. It’s no surprise: how often are you able to repeat the exact results of your own experiments, let alone those from another lab? Sure, there’s a certain amount of variability given the nature of complex cellular systems. However, if the idea is to use these findings for something bigger, then reproducing results is critical. So, why does it appear that results can’t be corroborated very frequently? And how big of an issue is it really?
Lab fails happen to the best of us. We started a contest to commemorate the veterans who have experienced these traumatic or hilarious moments. You all sent us your best work, and we’re happy to announce the winners here, in our blog. These lucky people will receive both the distinction of having the best (worst?) lab fail of the month as well as a stylish GiantMicrobes DNA plushy. Without further ado, here are your best lab fails of March 2019:
Anyone who’s ever worked in a research lab knows that failure is as inevitable as death or taxes. Imagine having to perform a finicky technique from scratch, without previous experience or the help of anyone well-versed in it either. After the hundredth time—I swear it took a lot more than that to finally get it right—the stress can become difficult to manage and solutions start to feel like a far-off fantasy. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to manage failure in the lab and come back stronger.
So, it’s your first time running an experiment? Doesn’t matter if it's something as straightforward as PCR or as complex as ChIP, you'll need to figure out what you’re doing and the best way to do it. A well-run lab usually has a large dictionary of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for a variety of techniques. But what if your lab doesn’t have a protocol for the technique you require? Here, we’ll review some best practices for developing your own set of SOPs in the lab and how they’ll help you and others in your lab get consistent results.