Friday, October 08, 2004

Accidental electric chair treatment for E.coli

Part of the lab work I'm doing right now involves building up a piece of DNA and then getting it into a cell. The method for getting it into a cell is called electroporation and basically involves putting the cells and DNA into a tube and then applying a high voltage electric pulse to the tube. The electric pulse opens up some pores in the cell and the DNA then slithers right in. You then have to give the cells lots of nutrients so they can recover from the shocking [haha] treatment they've been subjected to, and in general they recover pretty well.

That's the theory, at least. In reality, what sometimes happens is that the electric pulse fries the cells, in which case the machinery that you use for this produces quite an impressive spark. And then you have to go back and basically start from scratch -- you have to prepare DNA that contains the bits of DNA you want to glue together, cut it apart, extract the bits you want, glue them back together and then you're ready to try again. Depending on where the DNA came from to begin with, that could easily be a couple of weeks worth of work, quite a high price to pay for a millisecond of electric pulse gone wrong.

So, yesterday, I saw The Spark ie I fried the cells I was working with. Rather annoying, but it's not as bad as it could have been -- I only fried a quarter of the cells I've been working with and it's not like I really have a lot riding on this series of experiments, since I'm just doing them to get some experience with lab work. As a result, I'm not really bent out of shape about it. That said, I'm sure it'll happen a few more times over the next few years and I won't be so blase about it ...

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