The COVID-19 pandemic has caused global upheaval, and radically altered nearly every aspect of daily life for most people. For scientists, this means little to no bench work. And, as is similar for most lines of work, this has led to a loss of social circles, lab meetings, conferences, and much of what makes science fun.
How have scientists been coping?
Luckily, we still have Twitter. Here are a few stories that showcase the ingenuity of researchers and the passion we have for communicating science.
Communicating while staying socially distant – the power of Science Twitter
However, not every scientist has the resources or time to perform experiments at home, especially if you are quarantined with a spouse, children, other family members, and so on. Or perhaps you live in a small apartment and simply don’t have room!
Scientists have been extremely creative in developing other routes to share their ideas.
• Virtual lab meetings, coffee hours, and happy hours, essential to keep from going stir-crazy and, most importantly, keeping up with everyone’s pets! Speaking of, have you met my dog Lando? He’s the best (I’m biased).
• What about graduate students? Many students are holding thesis presentations and defenses by zoom video conference. However, one of the best parts of the defense is the celebration afterward – so if you see any of these newly minted PhDs on Twitter, congratulate them, spread the love, and maybe toast a drink in their honor!
• New online seminar series are giving people a chance to hear world-class talks by scientists usually reserved for conferences. We are especially excited about the series organized by the #FragileNucleosome community, which so far has included Drs. Hiten Madhani, Toshio Tsukiyama and Susan Gasser. Cynthia Wolberger is slated to give the next talk on April 29th, and Karolin Luger will be giving a seminar on May 6th. All talks are recorded so if you miss the live talk you can catch up later! Dr. Vlad Teif’s lab also hosts an events calendar with other virtual seminars related to chromatin and gene regulation, so be sure to check that out as well.
• And what happened to all the conferences that were planned, and then had to be cancelled last minute? A few have managed to turn their meetings into virtual events that are going viral on Twitter. The Genetics Society of America held the The Allied Genetics Conference online last week (#TAGC2020), enabling thousands of scientists to tune in for free. They even managed to host online poster sessions!
• For those interested in multiplexing, Luminex is hosting a free online conference describing different applications for their xMAP technology. EpiCypher CSO Michael Christopher Keogh is giving a talk on how we’ve adapted Luminex for our chromatin research – be sure to check it out!
Performing experiments at home – do you have a thermocycler?
Our favorite example comes from Drs. Steven and Jorja Henikoff at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who recently adapted their CUT&Tag chromatin profiling approach for at-home labs1, 2. This new CUT&Tag@home protocol is available now on protocols.io, and there is a corresponding preprint on bioRxiv that outlines assay set-up and compares the resulting data to standard CUT&Tag experiments.
The protocol uses minimal equipment, and is compatible with fixed or unfixed frozen nuclei. The main equipment you will need are a thermocycler, a magnet stand, a vortex mixer, a mini-centrifuge, and a cold pack or ice box to keep the reactions cold. There are no hazardous chemicals or live cell cultures used, meaning that it is fairly safe to set up at home, given you have adequate training on proper lab techniques.
They performed a rigorous head-to-head comparison of the @home technique with the published CUT&Tag method, analyzing different cell inputs and histone PTMs. Overall, the modified method is incredibly robust, generating data that agree with standard in-lab CUT&Tag techniques using as little as 60 nuclei.
We have been encouraged by the interactivity of the scientific community, and hope that some of the resources above will help you return to your love of science during this challenging time. EpiCypher will continue to be active on Twitter, and we hope to see many of you on there soon.
I’ll leave you with a small collage of Lando pictures. Because sometimes all you really want to do is look at some cute animals.
1. Kaya-Okur HS, et al. CUT&Tag for efficient epigenomic profiling of small samples and single cells. Nat Commun, 2019. 10(1): p. 1930. (PubMed PMID: 31036827).
2. Henikoff S, Henikoff JG. Profiling the epigenome at home. bioRxiv, 2020.