More Deadly Biohazards Found at the NIH!

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 09-10-2014

So what can you get while working at the NIH? In the past we told you about your risk of exposure to Anthrax, Smallpox, and the Avian Flu Virus. Well, now you can add ricin and Burkholderia pseudomallei, two well-recognized biological weapons, to your shopping list!

The Washington Post is reporting that during a beefed up safety inspection, NIH employees unexpectedly found these and several other deadly biological agents improperly stored among old and long-forgotten stockpiles, some dating back over 60 years.

I must admit that, unfortunately, I have found the news much less shocking this time around than in the past. In fact, I believe that I have now gone through several of the classical stages of grief:

  • Denial (it can’t be that the most respected scientific agency in the United States would irresponsibly allow the dangerous transfer of Anthrax to a low level bio-hazard lab)
  • Anger (what the heck is wrong with the scientist that left Smallpox at the back of the freezer?
  • Depression (we are all going to die from the Avian Flu virus)
  • Acceptance (ricin, staphylococcal enterotoxin, Melioidosis…these are just some of the things you should expect to find at an unsecured government research facility)

There really isn’t much more to say. I applaud the fact that the NIH are trying to introduce measure to more strictly control these substances, but I am not sure that the system will ever be 100% foolproof. There are probably tens, if not hundreds, of dangerous materials floating around labs all over the US, (not to mention the rest of the world). Is this a reason to be scared? I think so. What about you?

Why We Should Trust Scientists

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 09-09-2014

RT-PCR Directly from Cultured Cells

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 09-08-2014

Bio-Rad Laboratories announced the launch of new rapid cell lysis kits that allow researchers to obtain reverse transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) data directly from cultured cells without the need for a separate RNA purification step. Bio-Rad’s SingleShot™ family of cell lysis RT-qPCR kits provide high-quality gene expression results in less than two hours.

Available column isolation methods for purifying RNA are time-consuming and laborious while other methods that enable RT-qPCR directly from cell lysates can damage the RNA and result in poor genomic DNA clearance. However, Bio-Rad’s SingleShot Kits eliminate those challenges and offer superior reproducibility and accuracy of gene expression results. In addition, minimal setup and pipetting steps create an automation-friendly workflow and, unlike other similar methods, Bio-Rad’s kits do not require an additional pipetting step to stop the cell lysis reaction.

 

The SingleShot Kit removed genomic DNA (Cq > 40) while another available kit resulted in poor genomic DNA clearance.

The SingleShot Kit removed genomic DNA (Cq > 40) while another available kit resulted in poor genomic DNA clearance.

 

“The SingleShot Kits are ideally suited for high-throughput laboratories with large-volume workloads and for researchers who are faced with a limited number of cells and require extreme accuracy in each analysis,” said Paul Streng, senior product manager in the Gene Expression Division of Bio-Rad’s Life Science Group.

Bio-Rad’s SingleShot Kits are the only available kits that include an RNA control template and qPCR assay to help researchers determine optimal cell number and lysate inputs for their RT-qPCR reactions.

SingleShot Kits are validated for use with a wide variety of adherent and suspension cell lines and are offered in multiple formats, including one-step RT-qPCR and two-step RT-qPCR kits that are compatible with either SYBR® Green or probe-based assays. SingleShot Kits are available as a stand-alone cell lysis kit. All SingleShot Kits are validated for use with PrimePCR™ Assays and Panels.

Nightmare at the Lab Bench!

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 09-03-2014

Why are Women Underperforming Men in the Biology Classroom?

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 09-02-2014

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are traditionally heavily dominated by males, which is of great concern to universities as they try to improve student retention and achievement. One exception to that trend is in the field of biology. Of undergraduate biology majors, more than 60 percent are female and about half of biosciences graduate students are women.

Given that, a common assumption is that biology is one STEM field that no longer faces gender inequalities. However, researchers with Arizona State University and University of Washington have proven otherwise. In the largest analysis of gender differences known of in introductory college-level biology courses, researchers have found evidence of gender-based gaps in both achievement and class participation.

The findings appear in the current issue of Cell Biology Education — Life Sciences Education. The American Society for Cell Biology publishes the quarterly journal.

“Often, gender differences are assumed to be present only in fields where males outnumber females and where there is a strong emphasis on math,” said Sara Brownell, assistant professor with ASU’s School of Life Sciences. “But we are seeing it in undergraduate biology classrooms that do not focus on math — where females make up about 60 percent of the class — indicating that this could potentially be a much more systemic problem. It’s likely this is not unique to physics or biology, but rather true of most undergraduate classrooms.”

Researchers studied 23 classes at a research one (R1) university over a two-year period. The courses included mostly sophomores and biology majors, and were generally taught by two instructors each. Of more than 5,000 students enrolled in the courses, nearly 60 percent were female.

After studying exam performance and class participation, scientists discovered that even with similar college GPAs, female students had average exam scores of 2.8 percent lower than male students. In addition, while female and male students were equally likely to ask a question during class, when asked to volunteer responses to questions, 63 percent of males on average spoke up — even though they comprised only 40 percent of the classroom.

Co-author Sarah Eddy, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Washington, says the gender gap in the classroom, along with performance equality, present problems.

“Introductory biology classes are the first opportunities for many students to interact with professionals and peers in their intended fields,” said Eddy. “This is a critical opportunity to build up their confidence so that they can succeed in the field. Part of building that confidence is gaining recognition from their classmates and instructors. If females aren’t heard as often as males, they don’t have the same opportunity to succeed as biology majors.”

Brownell and her team suggest that in order to improve student retention and achievement in biology, new strategies must be put into place.

What can instructors do to level the playing field? To positively affect the participation differences in large classes, the researchers recommend using a pre-sorted list of student names to randomly call on them, rather than allowing students to raise their hands. Brownell and her team say that while students may be resistant to the method at first, it is a more equitable way to structure classroom discussions.

“In order to solve the problem, instructors must be aware that it even exists,” shared Brownell. “That’s really the point of this paper — to illustrate that there are gender differences that should not exist. The next steps are to try to determine what causes these differences and then develop additional strategies that instructors can use to lessen those differences.”

Thanks to Arizona State University for contributing this story.