I'm looking for a good introduction to practical biotech
August 30, 2018 5:17 PM   Subscribe

I need to learn a lot very quickly about practical biotechnology—not just the basics of the science behind it, but also the practicalities of what kind of equipment you have in a standard modern wet lab, what it does, and how to use it. I know that's a wildly broad scope of material; I'm a scientist, but not a biologist by training, so intro books will be helpful for the abstract stuff but likely not for the lab stuff. Any suggestions you might have for textbooks (ideally cheaper ones) or supplemental material would be very much appreciated!
posted by alycoop to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What’s the general topic, or is it for an undergrad biotech class? I work in a biotech department and the bone mechanics folks have very different needs than, say, the “detection of bioweapons” lab.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:44 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't know much about biotech, or how standard a standard lab is, but if you are looking for written resources about how to use the equipment rather than, say, learning how to use the equipment in a university academic setting, you might check out some of the diy bio communities online. Here's one.

This might be out of the bounds of what you would consider "supplemental material" , but if there's a biohackerspace near you they would be a great place to learn to use things. Some makerspaces and hackerspaces that aren't specifically titled as bio might also be helpful here, but that's kind of a long shot as it's hardly common.
posted by yohko at 5:47 PM on August 30, 2018

Response by poster: Apologies—the context is that I'll be working in a lab setting tangential to a bunch of biotech scientists, and I want to be able to have intelligent conversations with them about what they do in a day-to-day way (PCR, etc.) rather than just about the theory behind their science. I'm a materials scientist by training, so there's some overlap between dry and wet labs but not a ton.
posted by alycoop at 6:35 PM on August 30, 2018

Just seconding tchemgrrl that there isn't really a standard set up. I've had jobs in five academic and two industry labs, and they had some common equipment, but mostly it was all different stuff. What I did, when I was trying to get those jobs, is read all the papers out of that lab (if it's an academic research lab) and study the materials and methods section. Sometimes that section tells you exactly what the key equipment was that they used, and then you just look up the operations manual online, other times you just Google how to do each thing they did. YouTube video tutorials! In industry, it's harder to know how they might want to test their products in a wet lab, but easier too -- because in my experience industry lab equipment is way more likely to be load-sample-run-program-XYZ123-get-results than anything you have to know about to run it.

On edit: hahaha "PCR, etc." is my new resume. Or maybe my epitaph.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 6:38 PM on August 30, 2018

Honestly, they'll probably be used to explaining that stuff to folks who don't know much about it and will be happy to have someone take an interest. They might enjoy being able to vent to you about lab annoyances without having you troubleshoot. (source: I'm basically a biology lab manager.)
posted by momus_window at 6:39 PM on August 30, 2018

the context is that I'll be working in a lab setting tangential to a bunch of biotech scientists, and I want to be able to have intelligent conversations with them about what they do in a day-to-day way

From your question, I was guessing you had gotten some sort of job which you were unqualified (possibly building a biotech lab) for and trying to quickly learn things... I think you can learn a lot of this on the job. You don't need to know about equipment commonly found in bio labs, you want to know about the equipment that is already in the lab your coworkers are in.

what kind of equipment you have in a standard modern wet lab, what it does, and how to use it

"I'd really like to understand the biotech end of things and types of activities my coworkers do, would I be able to get a tour of the lab?"
posted by yohko at 6:48 PM on August 30, 2018

I think At the Bench could be a useful guide to basic techniques and biotech lab culture for you.
posted by Jorus at 6:56 PM on August 30, 2018

Open Wet Ware Protocols would be a good place to start. It’s crowd sourced like Wikipedia, so there’s a total gamut of technical level / assumed knowledge, but I’ve often used info from there when trying to figure out a new technique that I’ve only seen in papers. Searching for specific things on the research gate forums is also usually helpful.

And seconding just asking your colleagues. 95% of practical lab knowledge is passed down by word of mouth by people working together.
posted by permiechickie at 7:00 PM on August 30, 2018

JoVE might be a useful resource.
posted by kickingtheground at 7:55 PM on August 30, 2018

Biotech is a huge field and this will totally depend on what they are doing in that specific lab. It also changes pretty fast. I visited my cousins lab in grad school and recognized not a single thing in it, despite years working in a lab myself. I did environmental contamination, he did nano-drug stuff. Almost no overlap except for centrifuges I guess.

They didn't even have pipettes. It was wild!
posted by fshgrl at 9:29 PM on August 30, 2018

My background is actually really similar! Most generally, I'll say that people are usually happy to answer my incredibly stupid basic questions about, like, where a brain is in a bee or whatever. I was learning about injections yesterday and asked the speaker to fully say each of the 20 acronyms he'd used in the previous 30 seconds, and he was just like "Oh, right, oops!" So everything below is coming from a place of "people like talking about what they do and it's okay to be a dummy that knows nothing."

I still think this stuff varies enough from lab to lab that, short of asking for an instrument demo, it's going to be hard to troubleshoot problems they are having, or similar. It's comparable to being from a materials science background and thinking of people who do x-ray crystallography or high temp superconductors or metal fatigue or block copolymer patterning or graphene fabrication and analysis. The overlap can be practically nonexistent. I bet if you say "Oh, that sounds neat, I'm familiar with the theory but haven't actually interacted with a confocal microscope/ sequencer/ qPCR/ computation cluster/ mass spec/ mouse facility before, could you show me how that works?" most people would be happy to have a buddy the next time they're running something. The stuff that is most different is probably going to be the stuff that overlaps with biology, so learning something about the difference between culturing mammalian and bacterial cells, and caring for lab animals and associated surgical techniques, and on the sexier end, CRISPR and gene sequencing, is probably the stuff that will get you the farthest, the fastest.

I'm a core facilities person, and I'd say that if you are in a university setting, getting a tour of the more biotech-related core facilities would help too. They probably have protocols all written up for using equipment already, and are usually happy to chat. This would also be true if you are near a university, though it might be more of a surface approach if you aren't actually planning to come in and use stuff. I've run workshops for exactly this sort of thing, actually.

Lastly, I'll second JoVE, they've got tons of good stuff.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:35 AM on August 31, 2018

Molecular Cloning by Green and Sambrook might be useful, albeit maybe too thorough. It's been considered a bit of a lab techniques bible for, well, decades at this point. Quite pricey as you can see, but older editions are everywhere and you might find it in a library.
posted by Durin's Bane at 9:06 AM on August 31, 2018

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