Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It was SO 20th Century

I was in a lab today that tests fish for import. They test a LOT of fish, lots of it wild caught salmon from Alaska, but also US caught fish that is exported for processing and then imported again. The brick building on a hill in Seattle is 40 years old, they said (used to be a dry cleaners) and I'll bet not too long thereafter this lab was founded. I mean, I would have been right at home here in my summer jobs during college. Not too much equipment was much newer than that - well, this gas chromatograph was one of the first Hewlett-Packard (now Agilent) ever made. Will you look at this plug?
Well, I made a miscalculation when I signed up this lab - or at least when I talked to them about what lab equipment they did or did not have. For a number of reasons, no lab work this trip. We hauled out the supply catalogs and looked at pictures, went over the procedures and what are used to do them (the pictures again) and made sure to spell out the basic definitions, which may or may not have been vaguely familiar to them. They made out the shopping list; I get to go scrounge through the labs at the factory and see what kind of equipment I can scrounge for them, and get the rest of the equipment that we make sent to them. This will be a tall order, bringing labs like this one from brute-force analytical methods that were developed a half-century ago to 21st century molecular techniques. On the other hand, the ladies took me to a most excellent (and inexpensive) Japanese restaurant for lunch. Glad I like the food here, looks like I will be back!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Back when I was a chemistry professor, I put together a very popular lecture that explained the basics of cloning and amplifying a gene. It was new and hot then, scientists had just figured out how to get humanized insulin - before that they took pig pancreas from slaughterhouse and made it that way. I always got to end that lecture by telling the kids, now you have made your protein, get your $$ and take it to the bank.

Well, now everybody, even high school kids, can start with a primer (a piece of DNA that binds to your gene and says Start Here) and and make zillions of copies of any gene of interest from just about any kind of critter. So these folks at the University of Guelph have taken a bottle of Mescal, the tequila with the worm in the bottle, and amplified up the DNA of the worm from the liquor (not from the worm). If you would see that it takes us 2 hours to get a little speck of fish ready to do the amplification, this would impress you too. This would make a great change in our protocol - instead of a fancy kit and a lot of washes and fussing, just pour a shot of vodka (and maybe a shot into a glass for you - oops! no beverages in the lab please), put in your fin clip, and get the DNA from the alcohol. Woo-Hoo!