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6 Important Biology Lab Techniques Your Students Should Know

Ginelle Testa
Biology
Teaching with Labster

If you’re teaching a course in biology, perhaps you’re looking for resources to help you introduce or reinforce fundamental biology lab techniques that every student should know.

There are many lab techniques in the biology classroom, but we’ve identified 6 of the most commonly used techniques to study biological molecules and their interactions.

  1. Gel electrophoresis

  2. Cell lysis

  3. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)

  4. Western blot

  5. Reverse transcription

  6. Flow cytometry

We’ve also identified 6 Labster virtual labs that help you teach each technique. Not only can your students learn the methods, but they can also have fun along the way!

1. Gel electrophoresis

This technique separates charged macromolecules (DNA, RNA, or protein) of different sizes and estimates their length. 

gel electrophoresis preparation

In Labster’s Gel Electrophoresis virtual lab, students solve a crime by using DNA fingerprinting to identify a thief. Use nucleic acid gel electrophoresis to separate and visualize DNA molecules and watch an animation to understand what happens inside the gel tank.

2. Cell lysis

This technique breaks open cells to obtain a lysate. This may occur when purifying a component, such as in DNA or RNA extraction (1).

In Labster’s Cancer Sample Preparation virtual lab, students have to find the equipment they need in the lab to lyse the tumor cells, denature the proteins, and perform phosphopeptide enrichment to prepare the sample for mass spectrometry.

cancer sample prep virtual lab setup

3. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)

PCR is a method used to prepare billions of copies of specific DNA sequences. This technique consists of three steps: 1. Denaturation, 2. Annealing, and 3. Extension. The steps are repeated many times (often 30), producing billions of DNA copies of specific regions.

pcr experiment

In Labster’s Polymerase Chain Reaction virtual lab, students will be thrown right into a crime scene where a murder occurred. After investigating the crime scene, their first task is to collect blood samples in the hope that the murderer has left traces of their DNA.

4. Western Blot

Western blotting or Western blot is an important method in protein identification. This technique can detect one specific protein in a solution that contains numerous other proteins. Western blot specifically refers to the transfer of proteins and their detection using antibodies.

In Labster’s Western Blot virtual lab, students will learn how tumor cells send signals to surrounding cells to help promote tumor growth, and how this signal is transmitted inside the cell. You will apply the Western Blotting method and SDS-PAGE to the case study of finding an effective treatment for breast cancer.

Western blot virtual lab

5. Reverse transcription

Not all genes are constantly expressed in all cells. To produce the encoded protein, a cell must transcribe the DNA sequence into mRNA. Therefore, the level of gene expression corresponds to the level of mRNA. Gene expression can be measured using a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). RT-PCR is comprised of these steps:

  • Conversion of RNA into cDNA using reverse transcriptase

  • Amplification of cDNA using PCR

reverse transcription pcr

In Labster’s Gene Regulation virtual lab, students will learn the gene regulation principle that won the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 2012. With the gene regulation technique developed by Sir Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka, the student's mission is to try to treat a visually impaired girl. They’ll perform reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR) and Western blot to investigate the mRNA and protein level. 

6. Flow cytometry

This technique is a biophysical technology that simultaneously measures and analyzes multiple physical characteristics of up to thousands of cells per second as they flow in a fluid stream exposed to a beam of light. In order to do so, a flow cytometer is made up of three main systems: fluidics, optics, and electronics.

In Labster’s Your Diet and Your DNA virtual lab, students will follow Lily’s quest to plan a healthy diet for her best friend, Mia, who is lacking energy for her athletic performance. They will learn how an unhealthy diet can impact DNA stability by measuring telomere length and DNA adducts from human samples.

your diet and your dna lab

Wrap-up of techniques

In summary, here are the 6 biology lab techniques and their accompanying virtual labs:

  1. Gel electrophoresis

  2. Cell lysis

  3. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)

  4. Western blot

  5. Reverse transcription

  6. Flow cytometry

Each of these labs can help your students better grasp on the techniques required in biology.

Questions to consider:

  • How could you incorporate these lab techniques into your teaching plans?

  • Are these virtual labs better as self-paced homework assignments or small-group collaboration in class?

Source:

(1) Libre Texts. (2021) Basic Techniques. Retrieved from https://bio.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Biochemistry/Book%3A_Biochemistry_Free_For_All_(Ahern_Rajagopal_and_Tan)/08%3A_Basic_Techniques

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