TATAA Biocenter

I was very lucky to have been asked to visit Sweden to further develop my qPCR skills. One of the perks of being a scientist is visiting new labs, that are undertaking exciting research with state of the art instrumentation. It’s interesting to see scientists use the machines we make in a research lab environment. I learnt a great deal about what the end user wants in a machine and how this can make a high throughput research lab more effective.

Returning back to a routine of lectures for a week was very refreshing and was long enough to cover most of the techniques that I practice on a daily basis in the lab. The course was flexible giving us freedom to choose the modules we wished to attend, which was useful given the various capabilities within the group. With different experiences came varying ages and nationalities, which gave me the opportunity to meet scientists from Russian microbiologists to Swedish Honey Bee pathologists, not including the specialists at TATAA Biocenter.

The first few days covered focussed on the basic principles of PCR, reagents used, and a selection of different detection chemistries. We looked at different assays and the best way to validate them using known qPCR techniques. Then the importance of conducting them the correct way with reference to the MIQE guidelines. An absolute quantification reaction was a nice way to start off the lab sessions. We generated standard curves from a dilution series of a known sample to help us determine the concentration of our unknown sample. To follow we performed a relative quantification reaction. Here samples are only quantified relative to one another and standard curves only assess efficiency of the assay. Then we applied qPCR to determine the effect of an anti-cancer drug on mice that were showing signs of angiogenesis. Specifically, we looked at genes from mice samples that were crucial in the development of cancers and reference genes that were not.

One of the more relevant topics to our current lab work was genotyping with qPCR. We looked into the different methods covering high resolution melting, endpoint genotyping, allele specific PCR, asymmetric PCR and digital PCR. A number of these methods demand excellent performance from PCR instrumentation which clearly separates the good machines from the bad. Creating working assays for various genotyping methods is a useful way of showing what your PCR machine is capable of, so this added knowledge will be very useful back home.

Gothenburg is definitely a beautiful city and when I wasn’t working, the friends I made were more than willing to show me around. We went to visit the Southern Archipelagos and took a ferry from Stampen which visited all the islands, each with their own quirky personality. Travel seemed much simpler in Gothenburg despite its size, both the trams and ferries gave a very personal and domestic feel about travelling locally within the city. One of our many stops included the Botanical Gardens, an idyllic distraction from any hectic city. It was here that I discovered the Swedish love for salted liquorice! Other delicacies I tried was a bacon dumpling called Haluski Kapusta and a fruit sponge called Bublanina when I was invited to a Czech dinner party.

Apart from rubbing shoulders with leading qPCR practitioners from around the globe, one of the highlights of my trip was visiting Andra långgatan, the bohemian part of town. It was littered with vintage clothes and record shops, crowded pubs, quirky cafes, the muffled sound of alternative music and a slight hint of incense, leaking from doors ajar. With a bottle of Newcastle Brown I felt very much at home and can’t wait to go back!