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How to be the superhero in your lab

By: Roche Life Science

Posted: October 26, 2016 |

Beware - the following article describes the adventures of superheroes from a lab in a land far, far away. Reading this article in its entirety may result in unintended effects - such as discovering hidden scientific talents or superpowers not previously known to exist within you. Proceed at your own risk.

The events: In a time near the present, and in land far, far away, there was a basic science laboratory under the direction of Dr. Princess Polymerase that appeared to those around it to be as normal as a lab could be. The Polymerase lab was just as you would expect - it was bustling with researchers holding ice buckets full of eppendorf tubes, carrying culture plates and media, with sporadic laughter echoing the walls, and the occasional broken flask breaking the silence (oops!). It was running smoothly, working toward developing a vaccine for a new Toto virus that was spreading through the land - causing dissociative episodes in infected individuals later found wandering the yellow brick paths of the city. Their work was nearly complete when - suddenly - Dr. Evil Enzyme, the biologic creator of the mutating Toto virus - sent warning that he would destroy their lab and all of their work, unless they ceased all efforts at creating a vaccine.

The mission: Dr. Princess Polymerase and her laboratory super hero members must defeat Dr. Evil Enzyme and his Catalytic Cannibals to prevent the apocalyptic demise of their scientific work.

The players:

Green Fluorescent Post-doc (GFP) - GFP is a quiet, kind but serious, highly respected post-doc that rumor has it - his nail beds fluoresce under a FITC filter. Now, there are various theories - some believe this is from an accident involving a large collection of jellyfish Aequorea victoria at his home, while others believe he performed so many plasmid transfections during his PhD that he somehow transfected himself during a secret experimental protocol done wrong. While we may never know the true answer, GFP's true superpower is his quiet leadership, leading by example, and setting a strong, dedicated work ethic for his lab mates around him.

Primer and Probe, the Dynamic Duo - Primer and Probe are not twins, but they are as close as you can be without sharing the womb. Separated by less than one month in age, they became the best of friends during their undergraduate studies and are both pursuing their PhDs in molecular biology. While Primer and Probe have distinct projects, they are both aces at qPCR and often provide teaching and expertise to their fellow lab mates on how best to isolate RNA while minimizing degradation, making the appropriate master mixes, using multichannel pipettes, choosing appropriate (and validated) reference genes, and optimal data analysis including relative or absolute quantification methods.

The Agarose Assassin - A first year graduate student in molecular biology, the Agarose Assassin could pour the fastest gels, always knowing exactly how long to microwave the agarose to reach a boil without spilling over. There were never any bubbles in the wells of his gels, and he never broke a gel when transferring over the UV table. He kindly made the agarose gels for all those in the lab.

Labcoat Lass - She is the lab manager going on 20 years. Labcoat Lass can not only order the right size lab coat just with the glance of an eye, but she keeps the budget on point, makes sure the backup reagents are always well-stocked, and is a wise and experienced resource for all in the lab. She is well respected for her breadth of expertise. She is the universal go-to person when any kind of problem or issue arises, and if she doesn't know the answer, she certainly knows the person to ask.

Peter the pH Meter - Peter is an undergraduate student who works part-time in the lab. He makes all of the stock solutions for the lab and is an expert at the pH Meter. While most of us add a little too much HCl, then a little too much NaOH, then a little too much HCl - well, you get the idea - Peter the pH Meter keeps a careful record of how much he has needed to add on prior batches and makes a very careful estimate, often closely reaching the end pH on the first try. Not only does he pH the stock solutions, he takes care of all the glassware, stocks the agar plates and pipette tips. He is enjoying his first experience in lab and is hoping to study virology in college next year.

Analysis Paralysis - She is a seasoned research associate in the Polymerase lab. She is infamous for being able to sit and analyze data at her computer for so long without moving and with headphones in, that her lab mates often come by to nudge her and make sure she is still conscious. She is a bioinformatics genius - and her data processing skills are the envy of all around her - but most importantly, she is generous with her time in teaching others how to optimally process, manage and store their data. Often, Princess Polymerase has to come by and remind her of the increased risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and makes her stand and stretch.

The wrap-up: Following the warning from Dr. Evil Enzyme, Princess Polymerase and her team of superheroes set aside their fears and kicked it into over drive. Their recombinant Toto vaccine was ready for mass production at the National Laboratory of the far, far away land. Dr. Evil Enzyme arrived to the Polymerase lab in defeat and was taken away by security in a heated blanket for inactivation. 

These events underscore the importance of recognizing your own skills in the laboratory, including understanding how to work on a team and capitalizing on both yours' and your colleagues' strengths. Indeed, these skills can make you the superhero of your lab and help propel your work into exciting and unchartered scientific territories by means of technically sound, reproducible data with thoughtful and logical evolution.



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