Category Archives: PCR

Library of Life: Genomic Databases & Browsers

DNA at it’s heart is enormous chunks of information. The genome of an organism like  yeast, mice or humans contains an ocean of data. Currently there are several on-line genomic databases, a great example being SGD dedicated to the yeast S. cerevisiae. SGD has become a necessary tool for life-scientist over the past 10  years but at the same time has not kept up with information technology, resulting in a platform which works like a 10 year old website.

SGD is clunky but necessary, for now

Above we see a typical SGD search, it takes  5 windows to arrive at the sequence data of 1 gene. Nevertheless, SGD is used by drug companies trying to find the next big hit, academic labs trying to cure cancer and field biologists studying wildlife.

DNA is extracted and placed through a sequencing machine which spits out the information into a computer file.  Just as having an aged internet browser affects our productivity the browser one uses to view these files can have a large impact. Following the web-browser analogy we take a look at 3 different sequence browsers, starting with Vector NTI.

Vector NTI is enterprise software.

Vector NTI is well established and often bundled with hardware. It has many features but can often seem like information overload, causing most users to stumble through it’s many menus and windows. A step up in usability comes from the third-party software suite Sequencher, popular amongst mac users.

Sequencher is your friend

Sequencher strikes a healthy balance between features and usability. But is a fairly resource intensive program requiring CDs and hard drive space to store local algorithms. However, the most up to date browser is likely to be the free and light download, 4Peaks.

4Peaks Simplicity & Usability

4Peaks allows the user to go in, read their sequence file and get out. What it lacks in features it makes up for in simplicity. The end result of any software or database is to help researchers wade through all this information and continue their studies. In this environment services such as GENEART offers to perform much of the genomic related leg work on a given project.

These are all tools, the databases, browsers and services, which enable researchers to answer the questions that line our horizon. The progress of our tools has always directly correlated with our advancement, the life sciences adoption of information technology is a necessity as we discover so much of life is condensed data in every nook.

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The Polymerase Chain Reaction, A Microcosm

Creating a new life-form is an awe-inspiring experience. Writing DNA like a mere sentence and watching creation unfold in the mechanism of life is both breathtaking and humbling. None of this would be possible without the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). A simple process where all the ingredients for DNA: a teaspoon of reagents, a pinch of polymerase enzyme and a handful of the “letters” that make up our genetic code are thrown into the oven, literally, well a very accurate oven that can step temperatures rather quickly. Within hours the sentence you had written out on a computer screen, is now molecules floating around in a tiny tube ready to be put into a cell, which will read the instructions and attempt to build or act accordingly. Using this simple idea the human race has been handed over the keys to the Build a Life Workshop, however this simple process often goes without scrutiny, without improvement.

Basic Principles of PCR

Much of the drug discovery in both academia and industry is now focused on protein mechanics. How does this receptor behave? What buttons turn this enzyme on and off? Focusing on protein structure and mechanism often makes PCR a boring chore that most researchers have to grudgingly get past before they can get to the interesting part. As a result, the basic process of PCR has remained the same for decades. I literally remember when a P.I. gave me a paper from 1985 to look up what settings I should use for my reaction. All this wouldn’t be a problem, except people are often wasting weeks to months trying to get the right PCR outcomes. At the root of the problem & the solution is information. PCR is a “black box” process, in that you throw all the ingredients together turn on the machine and hope that all the right molecules will bump into each other at the right times. Traditionally, it has been a exasperating trial & error based system. Now however, information technology has given a glimpse of a solution and a way to move forward to the next chapter in the development of this life-science staple.

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Filed under Genomics, Microbiology, PCR