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Biomedicine in museums

Containers that actively interfere with the biomedical research process

We here at Medical Museion have a special love for containers. For example, one of the most conspicuous installations in the Split & Splice exhibition was ‘the container wall’ — a blown-up model of a 96-microwell filled with containers of all kinds used in medical practice and laboratory research.

But containers aren’t just innocently passive biomedical objects. It turns out that they interfere with experiments. In addition to the phenomenon of ‘sticky containers’, there’s just been published a paper which claims that DNA and protein assays may accidentally be affected by leaching of contaminants from plastics which interfere with the spectroscopic measurements of proteins and DNA:

Here we demonstrate that normal handling of laboratory microtubes causes leaching of light-absorbing chemicals into biological samples that interfere with spectrophotometric measurements … Some common laboratory techniques, including sonication and PCR, were particularly effective inducers of leaching … Leaching was ubiquitous among commercially available brands of microtubes, indicating a persistent source of error in biomolecule detection and concentration measurements.

I wouldn’t go so far as putting the ANT-ese labels ‘actor’ or ‘actant’ on plastic containers, but it’s nevertheless interesting that what was previously considered an inert container is now a active parameter that may have distorted millions of assays and research results.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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