Diethyl pyrocarbonate (DEPC) is an efficient, nonspecific inhibitor of RNases. It is typically used to treat water and solutions before working with easily degraded RNA. DEPC reacts with amine, hydroxy and thiol groups of proteins thereby inactivating RNAses (and other enzymes).
You can buy DEPC for example at Sigma.
- Treatment involves adding DEPC to 0.1% v/v and incubating at 37°C for 1 hour to overnight followed by autoclaving. Autoclaving destroys DEPC and is an essential step. Esters may be generated during autoclaving giving rise to a 'fruity' smell (that is not coming directly from DEPC).
- Note that DEPC cannot be used with chemical solutions that have amine groups, such as Tris and HEPES buffers, or mercaptans. In such cases, use DEPC-treated water to generate the solution.
- DEPC is very toxic and should be handled with care. Wear gloves!
- Di-methyl-propyl carbonate (DMPC), a safer alternative to DEPC (known carcinogen), is used in exactly the same way.