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AMB Program Biology Home Page Laboratory Manual AMB Course Page


General Laboratory Procedures, Equipment Use, and Safety Considerations 

I. Safety Procedures

 A. Chemicals

A number of chemicals used in any molecular biology laboratory are hazardous. All manufacturers of hazardous materials are required by law to supply the user with pertinent information on any hazards associated with their chemicals. This information is supplied in the form of Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDS. This information contains the chemical name, CAS#, health hazard data, including first aid treatment, physical data, fire and explosion hazard data, reactivity data, spill or leak procedures, and any special precautions needed when handling this chemical. A file containing MSDS information on the hazardous substances should be kept in the lab. In addition, MSDS information can be accessed on World Wide Web. You are strongly urged to make use of this information prior to using a new chemical and certainly in the case of any accidental exposure or spill. The instructor/lab manager must be notified immediately in the case of an accident involving any potentially hazardous reagents.

The following chemicals are particularly noteworthy:

  • Phenol - can cause severe burns
  • Acrylamide - potential neurotoxin
  • Ethidium bromide - carcinogen

These chemicals are not harmful if used properly: always wear gloves when using potentially hazardous chemicals and never mouth-pipet them. If you accidentally splash any of these chemicals on your skin, immediately rinse the area thoroughly with water and inform the instructor. Discard the waste in appropriate containers.

B. Ultraviolet Light

Exposure to ultraviolet light can cause acute eye irritation. Since the retina cannot detect UV light, you can have serious eye damage and not realize it until 30 min to 24 hours after exposure. Therefore, always wear appropriate eye protection when using UV lamps.

C. Electricity

The voltages used for electrophoresis are sufficient to cause electrocution. Cover the buffer reservoirs during electrophoresis. Always turn off the power supply and unplug the leads before removing a gel.

D. General Housekeeping

All common areas should be kept free of clutter and all dirty dishes, electrophoresis equipment, etc should be dealt with appropriately. Since you have only a limited amount of space to call your own, it is to your advantage to keep your own area clean. Since you will use common facilities, all solutions and everything stored in an incubator, refrigerator, etc. must be labeled. In order to limit confusion, each person should use his initials or other unique designation for labeling plates, etc. Unlabeled material found in the refrigerators, incubators, or freezers may be destroyed. Always mark the backs of the plates with your initials, the date, and relevant experimental data, e.g. strain numbers.

This Web page is maintained by Julie B. Wolf, UMBC;
Last updated on 3/2/2010

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