Life sciences labs are facing many workplace alterations due to the SARS-CoV-2 crisis. On the one hand, a search for insight into the virus has accelerated the need for lab activity; on the other hand, the danger of the crisis requires social distancing and less use of shared space.
Researchers are learning flexibility in their efforts to improve workplace safety. Clean and safe working environments are essential for safety and containing spread, and entry point temperature checks will become mandatory. Staggered work hours can reduce shared time in the lab, and when possible, rearranging existing floorplans can increase social distancing.
Clearly, laboratories everywhere need to be considering explorations of new solutions that can help save time and increase productivity under these conditions. Sharing space in the lab is not only a concern regarding social distancing, but also because of the use of shared surfaces. Research has found that the virus can spread from touching contaminated surfaces and then touching one’s face. Therefore, it is important to be conscientious about touching possibly contaminated surfaces and how the virus may interact in different environments.
Two April studies  tested the virus’s durability on a variety of surfaces in different environmental conditions. The first study analyzed the aerosol and surface stability (on plastic, stainless steel, copper, and cardboard) of SARS-CoV-2 and compared it with SARS-CoV-1. The second study compared both viruses on similar and additional surfaces (glass, cloth, wood, paper, money, surgical mask) but included the effect of environmental factors such as heat and humidity.
Both studies found that the virus lasted longest on plastic and stainless steel in a 70oF room at 40% (first study) to 65% (second study) relative humidity — three days in the first study and up to seven in the second. The virus did not seem to linger longer than three hours on printing and tissue paper and two days on wood and cloth fabric. After four days it was no longer detectable on glass or paper money. The longest duration, at over seven days, was on the outer layer of a surgical mask.
A recent webinar  surveyed researchers about their current anxieties and perceptions of what returning to the lab would look like in the ‘Next Normal.’ One respondent said:
Our lab has ten members, yet we are only allowed to have one person per bench lane, meaning only three can work at any given time. Thus, I can only work two full days per week until restrictions are lifted. I cannot imagine how I can be any way near as productive under such conditions.
So, how can appropriate safety measures be implemented when some common analyses, like the western blot, can take up to 18 hours and require intensive mixing, watch time, and hands on experimentation? The answer may lie in new and existing advances making great strides in better, time-saving equipment.
For example, the Invitrogen™ iWestern workflow offers solutions that save time and increase productivity while keeping safety in mind. The graphic below illustrates how a traditional western blot workflow takes from five and a half to 48 hours with constant present monitoring to enable accurate results. The iWestern workflow helps reduce hands-on lab activities by employing pre-mix solutions and accurate quick-read devices, significantly cutting both overall experiment time and Blot sitting.
How can product innovation make such a difference? One improvement can be found in the precast protein gels and ready-to-use buffers that save mixing and measuring time in the lab. Additionally, the wedge-well design of the Invitrogen™ Bolt™ Bis-Tris Plus gel allows twice the sample volume of other precast gels. These gels are designed to be used in conjunction with the Mini Gel Tank and decrease the time for the separation process from 90 to 30 minutes.
The Invitrogen™ iBlot™ 2 dry Blotting System uses preassembled transfer stacks with transfer buffer incorporated into gel matrices, decreasing preparation time. Transfer stacks come with transfer buffer already included, eliminating the need to prepare more. Ready-to-use buffers reduce time spent in the lab with others and improve efficiency through consistently measured and balanced reagents. This new process takes seven minutes, saving up to 23 to 53 minutes over traditional workflow. There is also a semi-dry transfer system available (Invitrogen™ Power Blotter), which offers more flexibility and can conduct transfers in as little as five to ten minutes. Traditional transfers can take between one and 24 hours. In addition, consider an automated blot processor like Invitrogen™ Bandmate™ Western Blot Processor to automate your blot for incubation and wash steps to further cut down your time in the lab.
User errors, which necessitate rerunning tests, can also take up valuable lab time. A wide range of available ready-to-use western blotting reagents — such as running buffer, blocking, and washing buffer — used in conjunction with innovative devices, greatly improve accuracy in experiments, eliminating the need for repeated tests due to inaccurate measurements, mixing, or readings. The Invitrogen™ iBright™ Imaging System has a Smart Exposure™ feature that automatically calculates the best exposure time, improving accuracy and productivity.
iWestern products provide sensible solutions that improve social distancing by reducing shared lab space. The premixed reagents, buffers, and gels eliminate numerous touch points during the western blot preparation process. Multiple Power Blotter stations in a lab offer a more personalized approach and enable personal safety by minimizing equipment sharing. The Invitrogen™ iBind™ Western Device uses sequential lateral flow technology for automated western blot processing. Once the device is loaded, the user can leave it (and the lab) to complete the process in two and a half hours, or it can be left to run overnight, allowing the user to retain social distance in the lab and freeing the space for others to use safely.
Another way the workflow frees up shared space is the iBright™ Imaging Systems feature iBright™ Analysis Software which is available in both desktop and Connect (cloud-based) versions, freeing the researcher to perform their analysis outside the lab and away from co-workers.
The ‘Next Normal’ will bring changes to all workplaces. It is fortunate that systems already exist to aid in social distancing and reduce surface sharing. Flexibility and innovation will continue to be the bedrock of scientific development.
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 van Doremalen, N., Bushmaker, T., Morris, D. H., Holbrook, M. G., Gamble, A., Williamson, B.N., Tamin, A., Harcourt, J.L., Thornburg, N.J., Gerber, S.I., Lloyd-Smith, J.O., de Wit, E., Munster, V.J. (2020). Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. New England Journal of Medicine 382;16. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2004973
 Chin, A.W.H., Chu, J.T.S., Perera, M.R.A., Hui, K.P.Y., Yen, H.L., Chan, M.C.W., Peiris, M., Poon, L.L.M. (2020) Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions. The Lancet: Microbe Correspondence 1:1:E10. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2666-5247(20)30003-3
 Linus. (2020, June 10). Future Forward: A special Report on Preparing for the Next Normal. https://www.thelinusgroup.com/future-forward-coronavirus-report
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