This article by Chou et al. detailed a series of inexpensive modifications to the classic Boyden chamber for assessing invasion and migration. By altering the shape of the chamber to a trapezoid, the authors reduced the problem of cell loss associated with washing.
Counting cells can be a tedious, time-consuming, and error-prone activity. Automated imaging systems have proven to be a partially effective solution here, although approaches for defining individual cells remain a challenge. In 2009, Prowse et al. described a cost-effective method for counting stem cells as clumps that eliminates the need to dissociate these clumps into single cells. Relying on the binding of propidium iodide (PI), fluorescent signal detection, and standard curve generation, this method was able to estimate relative cell numbers and growth rates for human embryonic stem cells.
Maintaining stem cells in a pluripotent state in culture can be expensive and labor-intensive. In 2013, Belinsky and Antic demonstrated a simple and effective method to inhibit differentiation of stem cells during culture—they simply lowered the incubation temperature from 37oC to 35oC. The authors showed that differentiation could be slowed by reducing temperature without any physiological effects on the cells themselves. This simple technique presents a cost-effective solution for labs looking to enhance stem cell culture efforts.
Gravina et al. detailed their “hack” for the Illumina GAII system in this article that enables users to run sequencing reactions in a lane-by-lane format, allowing for more effective use of flow cells in moderate- to low-throughput applications. These modifications should enable smaller labs to more effectively use massively parallel sequencing.
When it comes to cell culture experiments, media, growth factors, and other supplements can be quite costly. In 2013, Monterey et al. described a low-cost media formulation for culturing brain tumor spheroids. Their media formulation eliminates the need for many costly components typically used when culturing tumor spheroids while still proving extremely effective for the establishment of high-quality brain tumor explants.
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) is an emerging theme for biologists. From low-cost PCR cyclers to customized imaging systems, with a little know-how and engineering, labs can create effective instrumentation for their particular needs without breaking the bank. In 2009, Riek et al. presented one such option for protein expression from large-scale cultures of bacteria. With schematics and build instructions provided, this DIY platform is a cost-effective large-scale solution capable of providing a biomass equivalent to 250 shaking flasks of 400 ml cultures.
Identification of microsatellites is critical when performing population genetics studies. Past approaches for identifying microsatellites were low-throughput, but the emergence of next-generation sequencing (NGS) has provided a new tool for microsatellite discovery. Abedlkrim et al. detailed one such methodology in a 2009 article (more have since followed using various NGS platforms) that resulted in the rapid identification of 13 microsatellite markers from a species where limited genetic data was available. And with growing access to NGS technology, along with “hacks” such as #4 on this list, the cost of NGS microsatellite discovery should fall even further in the near future—much to the delight of population biologists.
The ability to amplify target DNA samples for testing in remote environments continues to be of interest for many researchers and healthcare workers. To accomplish this, there is a need for a simple, robust instrument design. In 2011, Chou et al. described an amplification scheme that relied on natural convection using an isothermal heater. The design requires only a single heat source and a capillary tube, making a “PCR machine” that is cost-effective and easy to transport. While primer design needs to be optimized, the results clearly indicate that this is a feasible approach to amplifying nucleic acid targets.
PCR is not the only area where inexpensive device development has taken place. In 2010, Douglass and Wcislo described their clever construction of a microvolumeter that could very accurately measure the volumes of small biological samples using fluid displacement.
Chemically labeled DNA is important for many applications in molecular biology and biochemistry. But labeled DNA must first be separated from unlabeled DNA. In this article, Hwang et al. describe how water saturated n-butanol provides a rapid and effective means of removing amine-reactive fluorophores and purifying the labeled product. This approach is also more cost-effective than traditional approaches for labeled oligonucleotide purification.
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