Friday, November 7, 2008

Excuse me , but what plasticware did you use for these experiments?

Checking my daily feeds in Reader this morning, I came across this little nugget in Science:

"Bioactive contaminants leach from disposable laboratory plasticware" by G. Reid McDonald and colleagues. From the abstract we get the money quote:
We demonstrate that these manufacturing agents leach from laboratory plasticware into a standard aqueous buffer, dimethyl sulfoxide, and methanol and can have profound effects on proteins and thus on results from bioassays of protein function.
Now, I honestly haven't gone and read the entire short paper, but it immediately brought to mind an example of something similar known for some time in the ion channel field:

"A light stabilizer (Tinuvin 770) that elutes from polypropylene plastic tubes is a potent L-type Ca(2+)-channel blocker" by Glossmann and colleagues. With wonderfull Teutonic thoroughness these folks found a component in polypropylene tubes that can leach out and block calcium channels. Having done my thesis with a guy who knows a little about calcium channels, this was a finding that was well known in the lab. Inevitably a new postdoc or student would order a case of polypropylene tubes that would end up donated to some molecular biologists posthaste. Polypropylene: good for centrifuging, autoclaving, and holding phenol solutions. Not so good for making your recording solutions. Instead we used polystyrene.

But I get the sense it isn't something appreciated that widely in the field. So, this is my attempt to serve you all, increasing awareness of the pernicious effects of these components on your recordings. A modest contribution, to be sure.

And if you're having trouble making people remember it in your labs, here's something to chant while marching through the hallways. It's already trite and overused, so why not?

"What do we want?"

"Polystyrene!"

"When do we want it?"

"NOW!"

6 comments:

Bill Hooker said...

On the other hand, if you make up your transfection mixes in polystyrene, they won't work. If you're working with nucleic acids, polypropylene is your friend. I confess I'd never considered what might leach out of it though! Thanks for highlighting this; I'll have to get hold of those references.

Arlenna said...

Yeah polystyrene is not a panacea for solution problems--in fact, it is so much more soluble in organics that things like DMSO and DMF are going to dissolve it and leach ITS plasticizers out much more easily.

None of these polymeric materials are going to be safe from leaching things. It just depends on what you put in them and what you need that stuff to do.

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

This is like the time I saw an SFN poster demonstrating that a certain flavor of Tygon tubing leached something that destroyed GABA, or that blocked GABA-Rs, or maybe that absorbed GABA...whatever it was, it gave me total nightmares since Tygon was all over our rig lines. Never did find out if it was confirmed though.

Nat Blair said...

@Bill - Good point. I guess this reveals the fact that my thesis lab had no transfection reagents, no restriction enzymes, and no gel boxes whatsoever. It was always amusing when sales reps would come in an ask us if we were interested in some product. They were invariably flummoxed by the lack of any and all molecular biology going on in the lab.

@Arlenna - Good point. I should restrict the wonders of polystyrene to aqueous solutions only!

@DrJ+MrsH - Ugh. That's the stuff of nightmares. Who doesn't use Tygon? I think I'll just stick my head in the sand now, and forget you even mentioned this! (Though it does remind me of the time someone at SfN was studying the effects of HEPES on membrane potential. I'm not gonna worry about that either!)

NeuroPostdoc said...

yeah, poor sales reps...they walk into our lab and start their sales pitch and I interrupt with "we only do ephys"..they ask: "pipette tips?", my response: "I use approx. 4/day" and then they turn around and wander out looking for a lab with more consumables...

if we tried to keep track of everything that could potentially screw with our experiments we'd never do any experiments, although I must say that I'm am so happy that Tocris came out with water-soluble AMPAR/KAR blockers...no more DMSO!

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