Monday, April 17, 2017

PCR's Next Wave

On BioTechniques:
PCR amplification of DNA is arguably one of the most important technology developments in the history of molecular biology, because without PCR, many commonly employed lab techniques would not be possible. It’s both robust and simple. Yet, there are still parts of the method that could be further refined—especially when it comes to sensitivity and error rate.

For researchers working in the cancer field, locating extremely rare variants from complicated mixtures of DNA, proteins, RNA, and other biomolecules is often a daily task. But identifying ultra-rare variants of these molecules presents a huge challenge—it’s like finding a needle in a haystack, a process that can be confounded further by PCR errors. This is another area where developers are finding fertile ground for improving PCR methods and protocols.

Anders Stahlberg from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, along with colleagues from Boston University School of Medicine and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, recently described a new multiplex PCR-based barcoding strategy that can be used for the detection of ultra-rare mutations by next-generation sequencing.
This article is a nice review of the previously described SiMSenSeq paper.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Do European Research Council applications foreshadow what may happen with the NIH?

It looks like Brexit is having repercussions on UK science funding from the European Research Council, according to David Lomas:
Applications to EU funds are usually made by consortiums of researchers from a variety of EU countries. Britain has a strong track record of taking the lead in these groupings. 

Britain also has a leading position in applications for individual research grants made under the European Research Council, the ERC. 

“Previously having a British member would help you in your application to get funding … Now you are less than an asset, so we have had academics removed from grant applications,” Lomas said.
One has to wonder whether US funded research organisations, like the NIH, will be forced to "Buy American" in the future and prevent spending on research activities in foreign countries.

I get the whole populist sentiment around trade deficits and job losses, etc., but the fact of the matter is that the US can't just cut out part of international trade and partnerships without impacting the productivity of US-based initiatives. For example, groups in Toronto can offer US scientists many different kinds of scientific services on a fee-for-service or collaborative basis on very competitive terms, mostly due to the favourable USD/CAD exchange rate.

So why cut out that part of the value chain?