Friday, January 06, 2006

Stink Bomb!

We have this phenomenon of centrifuge tubes containing bacterial culture hiding in the bowels of our freezers. These tubes tend to get forgotten and well, just sit in the freezer. People leave (and leave their cultures), people move onto different projects and don’t need these forgotten cultures, and sometimes, I think people just plain get busy with other stuff and forget that months ago they started some culture and froze it for later use.

Well, our technician a few days back discovered these tubes and rightfully decided it was time to clean these out and put the centrifuge tubes back into circulation.

However, there is one very important point to remember. These cultures have been sitting around for a long time, anywhere from months to even years. As you can imagine, in the meantime, despite being frozen, these bacterial cultures have been doing what bacterial cultures do so well—stinking up a storm in their sealed containers.

Now, the technician discovered quite a cache of these ancient cultures. I estimate between 25-50 tubes. Quite a lot of stinking tubes—literally.

Well, the technician decided to unleash what I would term “a stink bomb” on the unsuspecting lab by opening up these tubes and not using bleach on these cultures. It is important that when unleashing a stinky culture on your fellow labmates: use bleach early, often, and in copious amounts to spare the olfactory senses!

At first, I was blissfully unaware of the stink bomb migrating towards me. I came out of the room where I was working on my grant and I noticed a bit of odor in the lab. I assume that since I was surrounded by our postdocs in that area of the lab, that perhaps one of them just had well, ahem, bad intestinal gas. At this point, I got a call on my cell phone from my dentist and I stepped out of the lab into the hallway for better reception.

A few moments later, I see Thomas (one of our researchers) running out of the lab, who incidentally works in the closest vicinity of our technician. He runs out into the hallway holding a respirator mask over his face and makes a beeline for my lemon tree that is currently in bloom and quite fragrant. He then sticks his nose into the blossoms and start inhaling rather deeply. He relays the story to me and since my dentist told me that he could see me right away, I decided it was best to leave without going back into the lab. Fortunately, I only smelled the diluted form of the stink bomb and was spared the full intensity.

Today, yet another stink bomb was unleashed as more culture tubes got cleaned. Fortunately for me, I stayed in the room where I was writing my grant. I could hear the muffled sounds coming through the walls and, I think it is safe to assume that the stink bomb was not well received. Although I believe it was not as bad as the original one.

For the first time in weeks, I realized that sitting in an isolated room writing a grant has its distinct advantages.


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