A song of slush and ice

Dear Outside Lab:

When the shipping instructions say “pack with wet ice,” that means as opposed to dry ice. It does not mean to package the specimens with a bag full of slush the consistency of a frozen Daiquiri that’s been on the patio for an hour.

Also, please note that twisting the open end three times and stuffing it under the bag does not count as “closing” the bag of ice.


A very damp lab tech

The liquid nitrogen tank iced over and made a polar bear.

The liquid nitrogen tank iced over and made a polar bear.

There need to be more lab-related song parodies. Let’s get on that. Till then, enjoy this one!

A couple of years back we had an undergrad work-study student who caused all kinds of trouble. My favourite story about him is the time we asked him to make some 2X agar stock. He’d been instructed in the proper method (weigh agar, put in individual bottles, add water) and the instructions were clearly written near the chemical bench. About an hour after he’d been sent to do this 5 minute task, one of the grad students went to check on him. He’d put all the agar and water into a large bucket and was attempting to dissolve the agar. At room temperature. When it wouldn’t dissolve, he did the “logical” thing. He added more agar.

I have the best job in the world. Every day I get to go hang out with intelligent, curious people who are driven to explore the world and share their discoveries with others. I’m a lab tech. I didn’t start out thinking this would be my life. I always figured I’d be an artist. But when I finally made it to university at the tender age of 31, I knew I needed to challenge myself.

After second year, I volunteered in a bacterial genetics lab for the summer. My supervisor was brilliant, funny, generous, but also demanding and rigorous. She taught to to perform basic lab assays and tasks with care and discipline. I ended up doing two full-year research projects with her, working on aspects of her PhD project, with a summer of paid research in between. I grew bacterial cultures, extracted DNA, did some cloning, and helped with a massive yeast screen. I fell utterly in love with science.

After I graduated, the same lab took me on as their tech. Besides being responsible for the smooth running of the lab, I also have my own project. My research is part of a multi-lab longitudinal study investigating the role of microbes that infect Cystic Fibrosis patient lungs. I receive samples of Pseudomonas aeruginosa - an opportunistic pathogen - isolated from sputum samples, and then I extract the DNA so that I can amplify and sequence specific genes called housekeeping genes. These are highly conserved genes that are critical to the survival of the bacterium, so the few mutations in them tell me how related the isolates are. We’re hoping to use this information to track the survival of individual strains within a patient so we can better understand how strains survive antibiotic treatment. In addition, we can track the spread of strains throughout a population and hopefully get a better idea of how P. aeruginosa is acquired and what its regional and global distribution looks like. 

To my delight, I still get to dabble in art in the lab, making figures for publications and posters. 


Welcome to Laborastories

A laboratory is a mysterious place. Tucked away in a basement, usually windowless and forgotten, labs are where a whole lot of incredible science gets done.

Laborastories is a place where we lab rats can share our work with the rest of the world - our joy, our frustration, and that one time we dropped a whole box of specimens into the liquid nitrogen tank and had to fish them out with a sieve taped to a broom handle.

Are you a lab professional? It doesn’t matter what field you’re in - if you’re wearing a lab coat and doing SCIENCE on a daily basis, please please submit some of your funny or fascinating stories and photos so the world can see what we’re up to!