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April 2015 Archive

Posted by Karen on April 1st, 2015  ⟩  0 comments

For thousands of years, our species has invested its life in explaining observed phenomena, mainly in an effort for self-preservation. This insight has equipped us to make predictions and develop biological defenses, giving us the upper-hand against natural selection. It has also inspired seemingly far-fetched visions of how science will impact the future. And now, with the emergence of modern synthetic biology, we have arrived.

Suddenly we see our own kind crossing the threshold into the future, a place where that far-fetched imagination has become realized. And while those few who have managed to cross over haven’t ventured too far beyond the entryway, we can see a powerful horizon, full of opportunity.

ur excitement has quickly set us in motion. University of California, Berkeley established the Synthetic Biology Institute in 2010. PLoS ONE launched a synthetic biology collection. Reddit has a synthetic biology subreddit. A synthetic biology startup group exists on LinkedIn. There are several website, contests and conferences dedicated to enriching those in the field. And, of course, YouTube is filled with great videos on the topic, including this documentary.  

 So what exactly is synthetic biology and why are people banking on it? It’s this broad, undiscovered potential that has caused debate about defining the buzz word. Over time, as the field of synthetic biology evolved, so too has its definition. But many are converging on the idea that synthetic biology involves an interdisciplinary effort to design and build biological systems or devices with intentional function.

Though its definition is neatly put together, the difficulty comes in classifying approaches and disciplines within synthetic biology. One approach is almost a cooking strategy where single cells can be pieced together from nonliving molecules, essentially from scratch. This bottom-up method prevents in vivo alteration, enabling researchers to study the origin of life and the basic functions of life.

The second approach is on the opposite end, taking the genome of an existing bacterium or cell and reducing it to its most fundamental characteristics of life. Here, in this so-called top-down approach, researchers can modify DNA sequences to enable a desired function.

These two tactics are easily classified, and luckily, they aren’t the only applications out there. If that were the case, synthetic biology would not be the hot topic that it is. In fact, there are several avenues for synthetic biology research that cannot be as easily classified as the first two examples. This makes it much more difficult to fashion a nice summary for the field, but it does makes it more interesting to explore.

Thankfully, the processes behind synthetic biology are cleaner than the definition, and easier to communicate. Using engineering principles, researchers in this field can think in terms of software (DNA) and hardware (the host cell), and they are able to take the scientific method even further. Now, principles of design, standardization, mathematical modeling and characterization are being fused into the overall process of scientific discovery and breakthrough.

By blending multiple disciplines together, we have found a way to carve out a world we always dreamed about. If you have a vision, it’s now possible to make it so by manipulating existing tools and coaxing the production of your design.

As a result of this multidisciplinary medley, we are exploding with ideas that become reality. For instance, a team from Johns Hopkins University successfully made a yeast chromosome from scratch, the bottom-up approach. This is the first time anyone has synthesized the chromosome of a complex organism. Harvard researchers see a possibility for baker’s yeast to produce lysergic acid, which is used in many medicines and is a precursor of LSD. Synthetic biology has enabled startups to design “bacterial robots” to clean water and produce energy. It is giving us the power to develop vaccines and other drugs at a much faster rate. And certainly our most favorite example is the Glowing Plant. Currently, they have been using synthetic biology to develop Glowing Plant Arabidopsis, but their vision is to naturally light the world at night with glowing plants and trees. They are our favorite because it is a true example of an ancestral pipe dream coming true.

Surprisingly, as futuristic and groundbreaking as this all sounds, the concept of synthetic biology is more than a century old, and the idea of modifying elements of nature to solve a problem has always been a consideration of mankind.

Jacques Loeb, John Butler Burke and Stephane Leduc were among the first well-known pioneers in the field during the early 20th century. And even more surprising is that their attempts at creating life from nonlife in the early 1900s were more successful than we would have thought.

The term itself was coined by Leduc in his 1912 publication “La Biologie Synthetique,” which was printed after his years of experiments growing several osmotic and crystalline “growths” in an attempt to illustrate that processes such as osmosis could yield forms with lifelike characteristics.

While Leduc wanted to understand the origin and composition of life, Burke set out to create life from nonlife. In 1905, it was announced that he, in fact, successfully produced cultures that were very lifelike. These creations appeared to grow and divide over days with the help of radium. Although they were unstable, the lack of stability in sunlight and water proved that these forms were more than bacterial contamination.

Of course, during that same era, fabricating life was not the only thing of scientific interest. 

There was an even greater hope in designing a perfect race. The field of eugenics was blossoming, and to some extent the two fields overlapped. This is crucial to mention since humanity has also seen the disastrous implications of eugenics. And for a long time after its peak, it faded into the background. But as we embark on the promises of modern synthetic biology, we see some of its themes leaking out again and stirring ethical debates.

With every great breakthrough, a threat of corruption always exists. How far can we go with gene editing, which falls within synthetic biology? Should mankind really toy with creation? Are we smart enough to create without harming our new creations? Will we place the same value on synthetic life that we have for natural life? Just as Reddit is teeming with articles about synthetic biology breakthroughs, it is also littered with concerns over “designer babies,” genetically engineered organisms and “playing God.”

There is no easy way to answer ethical concerns. Education will certainly help eliminate fear of the unknown. This will also empower people to ask intelligent, convicting questions to ensure the field is refined and better regulated.

Still, as the wizards of life, we love to embrace the possibilities that lie ahead, and thankfully we have the lessons from the past to reflect on in an effort to improve the future rather than making the same mistakes. And we must, because our research is not only paving a beautiful future, it is giving closure to the unfinished investment of our ancestors before us.


Boldt, J. (2010). Synthetic Biology: Origin, Scope and Ethics. Center for Humans and Nature, Vol 3, Num 1.

Equinoxgraphics. (2012, Februrary 15). Creating life – The ultimate engineering challenge (Synthetic biology documentary) [Vide file].    Retrieved from

Schmidt, M., Kelle, A., Ganguli-Mitra, A., Huib de Vriend. (2009). Synthetic biology: The technoscience and its societal consequences.    Springer Science + Business Media, pages 7-10.

              Karen Martin
GoldBio Marketing Coordinator

"To understand the universe is to understand math." My 8th grade
math teacher's quote meant nothing to me at the time. Then came
college, and the revelation that the adults in my past were right all
along. But since math feels less tangible, I fell for biology and have
found pure happiness behind my desk at GoldBio, learning, writing
and loving everything science. 

Category Code: 79105 79102 79101

Posted by Karen on April 23rd, 2015  ⟩  0 comments

It’s defrost day in the lab, and you think to yourself, “This might be the best day to organize my fridge.” Then you open the door, your jaw drops and you change your mind, choosing to simply deal with the defrost project rather than the organization. However, when it comes to your upright fridges and freezers that store delicate samples, enzymes and other reagents, organization is crucial to its efficiency. Loitering with the door open, attempting an impossible search for a product is not only a waste of energy and time, it’s also bad for the products stored within.

But guess what? You’re not alone with this problem. The household fridge is the original box of disorder. And it might not have ever occurred to you that the organizational tips of domestics might also be considerably useful in a scientific lab.

So here is your ultimate guide to keeping your laboratory fridges and freezers organized. It combines known lab suggestions with household suggestions. But it’s not foolproof. Maintenance and consistency is still going to be a personal challenge. And check out  our follow up blog which expands more on laboratory organization.

1.  Inventory Management:

  • Software Based: This is definitely your first step to organization, and it extends beyond the fridge. Thankfully, we live in the digital age and there is plenty of software available. Of course, if you’re on a budget we recommend trying Quartzy* for this. The reviews attest to its ability and it is provided at no cost to the user.
  • Spreadsheet/Cloud Based: If you’re a little partial to using spreadsheets, it might be useful to manage the spreadsheet on a Google Sheet because of its cloud based platform. That means anyone within your lab can access it at any time and log information – if you so choose that is. Of course, your institution may require an Excel submission of inventory for safety reasons. Thankfully, text in Google Docs can be easily copied and pasted. I still recommend keeping your inventory with Google due to its accessibility and ease of collaboration.
  • App Based: Primarily, the moral of this blog is that what can be used for home can sometimes be used for the lab. If you want to keep it simple or strictly for the fridge, browse your mobile device’s app store. There are several fridge/freezer management apps. While they’re dedicated to the household appliance, some can work equally well in the lab. For instance, the Freshbox app allows you to snap pictures of the product, set the shelf life, expiration date, add notes and set reminders for expiration. It’s simple, personal, easy to use, and has the perfect criteria needed for the management of your reagents. There are some drawbacks to the app, so find what works for you. 


2. Labels Labels Labels Labels:

Most of you are already doing this. The question is to what degree and how disciplined are you at updating and obeying the labels? If you share a fridge, it’s important to establish a categorical place for everything, and to have it labeled clearly. Underlings in your lab might be better about putting things back where they found them as long as the place plainly exists. Make sure you set up a place that can house multiple working tube racks or freezer boxes for those working under you in the lab. Have it labeled – perhaps even by name. On that note, if you’re not sure how to label the grated shelves of a fridge or freezer, consider using a suitcase tag. Even after the shelves frost over, the tag is hooked in place. And if you place labeled lab tape over the vinyl sleeve, your writing will remain visible.

3.  Storage Safety

While I trust you all are masters of lab safety, it is always worth the reminder. Make sure you store dangerous goods appropriately, being careful not to place products that might react with each other near each other. 

4.  Keep Like with Like: 

This is one of the golden rules of domestic organization. In some labs it might already be applied. In others, a fridge or freezer may have gotten so out of hand that anything is placed anywhere. Keep your enzymes with your enzymes, your samples near samples – however you want to categorize it, always keep like with like.

5.  One Shelf at a Time

The big tip from domestic experts is to take organization one shelf at a time. This is just as valuable in the home as it is in the lab. You might only have a small designated space in a reserve fridge to hold temperature sensitive products while you organize the freezer. So going one shelf at a time lets you make the best use of what little room you have. The other benefit is that you are not overly committed to the process. It’s a grueling task, and it’s easy to get in over your head. By taking it one shelf at a time, starting from the top and going down, you can easily free yourself from the job when necessary. If you’re doing this on defrost day, then I suggest you organize before you defrost.


6. Cleaning As You Go:

As you work from one shelf to the next, inventorying and trashing useless items, keep a cleaning cloth handy to wipe each shelf down. Don’t forget the walls and racks. 

7.  Square vs. Circular Containers

An interesting piece of domestic advice that is useful to your lab is storing items in square containers vs. circular containers. This is because circular containers do not make good use of corners and therefore waste more space than necessary. That isn’t to say you should avoid round containers, but consider squares as much as possible when reorganizing your fridge. For existing circular containers, find ways to stack them on top of a pre-existing stack of square containers. *For storing petri dishes, consider the tips provided in number 8.

8.  Everything Visible – Everything Accessible

Here’s the next golden rule for household fridge organization. And it can be extremely useful to apply in the lab. Not only do you hate pulling everything out of the freezer in order to find an old freezer box in the back, but you risk the warming and cooling of reagents or samples that might face some degradation. Instead, consider using Fridge BinzTM. These are great containers that are not only clear, but also allow you to pull out what is stored. With this tool, the back of the fridge search is no longer scary. I get it though, not everything is small enough to fit in these types of bins, so think inside a bigger box. Get some clear Rubbermaid tubs instead. They’ll give you the same benefit of visibility and accessibility.  Coolers and freezer boxes could be better stored in clear bins as well. As for sleeves of petri dishes, it wouldn't hurt to keep them in a larger, clear container such as these examples so that they can be neatly taken out and put back as needed.

9.  Turn Tables

Going back to accessibility, the revolutionary concept of the Lazy Susan doesn’t have to be limited to cabinets and tables at home. They’re useful in the fridges and freezers within households and laboratories. When Fridge Binz TM won’t work, a turn table might be your next best solution. You can find them anywhere and in a variety of sizes.

10.  Knowing the Anatomy of Your Fridge

Within a laboratory, you do have the advantage of having appliances designed specifically for your needs. High-end scientific fridges and freezers might be better suited for even distribution of temperature; however, not all of them are like this. If you aren’t aware of temperature zones in the fridge, our image below is a great illustration, detailing fridge temperature distribution. 

Here’s a big thing to consider, if your reagents or stock is sensitive to freeze-thaws, it may not be the best idea to store them in the arm! The arm is considered the warmest part of the fridge, and since the door is constantly opened with people often lingering, your samples, enzymes and stock solutions of ampicillin, for example, might be at more risk than you realized. Ultimately, you want to keep your items visible, accessible and protected.

You might now be thinking, “Well those tips are great, but I have 20 years of research in my fridge. Tell me how to fix that.” I have highlighted some additional tips to help with that in our follow up blog. Until then, recall the tips from number 7 and 8: Keep square containers and consider visible storage bins for old freezer boxes. It won’t be to the level of organization you desire, but it might be presentable and easily maneuvered around.

*It should be noted that GoldBio has its products listed on Quartyz; however, this mention was unsolicited.

              Karen Martin
GoldBio Marketing Coordinator

"To understand the universe is to understand math." My 8th grade
math teacher's quote meant nothing to me at the time. Then came
college, and the revelation that the adults in my past were right all
along. But since math feels less tangible, I fell for biology and have
found pure happiness behind my desk at GoldBio, learning, writing
and loving everything science. 

Category Code: 79105 79109