Taralyn Tan Ph.D. Curriculum Fellow Harvard Medical
Check out these time-saving apps and simplify your research with a few easy clicks.
Is there an app for that? If there is, you should check if it’s in GEN’s Best Science Apps first! Every month, we bring you a list of the best biotech- and biopharma-related apps we think you, GEN reader, would find useful and/or interesting. Here is our most recent list of Best Science Apps. Enjoy!
+ Provides some educational facts
– Can get monotonous
You might say that this app is “contagious.” The Virulent app by the Education Research Challenge Area at the Morgridge Institute for Research (that’s a mouthful) is a science-themed game that also packs an educational punch. You play the part of the Raven Virus, and the object of the game is to infect cells and replicate, all while avoiding “enemies” such as the antibodies produced by B cells. There isn’t much in terms of instructions, so the game requires a bit of trial and error. As you progress through the levels, you learn tidbits about immunology and virology, such as what a budding site is. While playing Virulent won’t make you an expert in either field, the app is simultaneously enjoyable and educational…and nerdy. And who doesn’t love that combination?
+ Can build a recipe library in the app
– App is limited in scope
Ah, the master mix: saving countless grad students and postdocs from pipetting-induced calluses over the years. The MasterMix app is a simple app designed to help researchers with their—yes, you guessed it—master mixes. The default recipe provided in the app is for a PCR. App users can specify the volume of each reagent and the number of reactions, and the app will then calculate the total volumes required to make the mix. This alone is not too impressive, but two additional features of the app make it handy in the lab. The first feature lets you tap on each ingredient to check it off your list (that is, if you don’t mind touching your iPhone/iPad with gloves on); the second feature lets you build a recipe library in the app. Because users are able to build their own recipes from scratch, they have the ability to easily calculate master mixes for all of their commonly used reactions, all within a single app.
BrainTutor HD ★★★★
+ fMRI stacks as well as cartoon models
– Subcortical areas not presented in depth
You don’t have to be a neurosurgeon to get up close and personal with the human brain. Thanks to the BrainTutor HD app, now anyone can explore and learn about the brain via two types of 3D models: cartoon animations and fMRI imaging stacks. The cartoon models can display either hemisphere alone or both hemispheres combined; the fMRI image stacks can be viewed under the “head” option, with options to scan the stacks through top-down, side-to-side, or front-to-back views. The brain is divided into six atlases: lobes, gyri, sulci, Brodmann areas, subcortical areas, and functional areas. Each atlas contains a number of brain areas that users can individually select to highlight them on the 3D model. In addition, each brain area is accompanied by a description that includes information on nomenclature/parts, location, and function/connectivity.
100% Biochemistry ★★
+ Includes a lot of information
– Not the best organization, difficult to navigate
If you’re going to make a biochemistry app, you might as well give it 100 percent—that’s what I always say. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the 100% Biochemistry app completely lives up to its name, it is still a nice reference app for students of the subject. The app includes a large amount of information on a wide variety of topics including nucleic acids, catalysis, and cell signaling pathways. Under each of these topics are many individual pages, any of which can be saved to the user’s “saved” list for easy access later. A fun feature of the app is the “random page” option, which can be accessed either by clicking on the pair of dice at the top of the app or by simply shaking your phone.
+ Easy viewing options, great if downloading from GenBank
– Tedious to build a plasmid from scratch
If you find yourself regularly searching for and downloading plasmid sequences from GenBank, then you’ll really appreciate the convenience offered by the Plasmid.io app. This app allows you to organize and edit all of your plasmid sequences in one place (as well as request and share plasmids with colleagues, if you register for the free account). Users can add plasmids to their collection either from GenBank or can create them from scratch, although it is really quite tedious to build the plasmids oneself. It would be helpful if a future version of the app could allow users to import their own sequence files to expedite the “from scratch” option. Once a plasmid is in your collection, you can easily switch between viewing sequence features, the sequence itself, and restriction sites, all while displaying the map of the plasmid. Plasmid maps can be emailed as PDFs, or the sequence can be emailed in FASTA format. Mendeley users can also upload PDFs to their accounts.
Real-Time PCR ★★★★
+ Nice amount of background and practical information
– Some resources limited to Life Technologies products
RT-PCR is a technique as useful as it is ambiguously named. In this case, I’m referring to real-time PCR, also known as quantitative PCR (qPCR), but not to be confused with reverse transcriptase PCR (also abbreviated as RT-PCR)…OK, got that? If you’re still confused, the real-time PCR app by Life Technologies will clear things up for you. This app is a great reference for all real-time PCR users, whether you are new to the technique or an old pro. A primary feature of the app is the real-time PCR handbook, which provides detailed background information about the technique, as well as practical information for experimental design, data analysis, and troubleshooting. The app also includes a reaction calculator tool as well as a video library and a set of reference documents (although these two latter resources are most useful if you use Life Technologies products).