Institute of Regenerative Cures

My class got to go on a field trip last week.

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All the joys of barely being able to see the tour guide when you’re at the back of the group.

I know! Field trips in a Master’s of Science program? How ridiculous!

It was awesome. We went to the Institute of Regenerative Cures in Sacramento.

I arrived early and waited out front with some classmates. Our tour guide arrived and we waited out front a little longer til everyone showed up.

While waiting the tour guide, who had designed the building we were about to go into, told us about his hobby, early television history!

After the primer on early television we entered the building and got a tour of one of the best facilities for practicing biology in existence right now.

The building itself was actually built a long time ago for the California state fair. It was the “women’s building.”

The brick exterior and columnaic entrance have stayed the same since the building was constructed to maintain the historical site. The interior has been heavily modified.

The building had no roof back in the day and was just an enclosure for a bunch of different events that you usually see at state fairs.

The building was sold to the University of California system. They slapped a roof on it, and used it to store records.

Our tour guide said that he was called in to turn it into a biology facility later on. Half the building is used for bio research while the other half is rented out to other companies.

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The entrance hallway with pictures of the cooler discoveries at the Institute.

The researchers in the Institute are working on a number of things. They researched a treatment for the “bubble boy disease” there. They’re working on using umbilical cords to create bone marrow for transplants, using Tal proteins to treat Huntington’s, creating HIV resistant cells, and helping people who can’t swallow to swallow are just a few of the things they work on there.

Where all the research is done!
Where all the research is done!

The tour guide also showed us the section that he was most proud of as he had designed it. A set of rooms for making the actual drugs and proteins to export to hospitals. Making the drugs requires extremely sterile technique to prevent giving someone who is already sick something that will make them worse. The rooms are designed to be extremely sterile.

To enter the rooms you pass through an airlock where you are required to cover every inch of your body in a disposable gown.

The airlock goes to a hallway with access to three separate clean rooms.

There is “negative pressure” in the rooms. That means that air is constantly entering the room from the top and going out the bottom. This is so that if any cells that are worked with in the rooms get into the air, they will be redirected to teh ground and sucked out through a grate in the wall instead of ending up in someone’s medicine.

The air is cleaned excessively to about 3000 times more clean than average air before entering the facility.

There is a lot of electrical equipment in the rooms that will require replacing eventually. To prevent electricians from having to gown up just to replace a lightbulb, all the eletricals are accessible from panels on the second story of the building.

It was pretty cool for a scientist like me to see the best possible place to do research in. The tour guide mentioned that he does tours of the interior of the super clean rooms for smaller groups. I might take him up on that at a later time!

-GoCorral

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Abandoned Lab

Two shelves I filled up with pipette tips.
Two shelves I filled up with pipette tips.

Last week the rice research lab I work in was all but abandoned due to a local conference on plant pathogens.

I didn’t go to the conference as I’ll soon be changing to working entirely onĀ C. elegans.

Spending the lab’s money on me learning more about a topic that I probably won’t encounter again would’ve made me feel guilty.

I was left in the lab with a few people who stayed behind or came back early.

I finished all my usual duties in the lab like taking care of plants and setting up stuff for next week, but I still had a lot of extra time before the end of the day.

I cleaned up the lab a bit and… FILLED TIPS.

I filled two entire shelves with boxes of tips.

You might be wondering what are tips and what are they used for?

Biological research often requires very small amounts of liquid to be measured.

For comparison, in the science we usually measure volumes of liquids in liters.

Most people are familiar with liters in the form of those two liter soda bottles that are used for parties.

A milliliter is equal to one thousandth of a liter, or two thousandths of a soda bottle.

A milliliter is still rather big though. It’s about the size of the last joint on your pinky finger.

The research I perform measures liquids in microliters, which are one thousandth of a milliliter (or two millionths of a soda bottle).

A microliter is about as big as a period.

So how is something that small measured?

With a pipette!

A pipette is essentially a mechanical suction device, similar to a straw.

A pipette tip is added on to the sharp end of the device you see above.

The button on top is pressed down, expelling a specific volume of air from the pipette.

When the button is released the pipette sucks that volume back up into the pipette tip.

Pretty much the same principle as using a straw to drink a two-liter bottle of soda.

The amount of air expelled from a pipette allows researchers like me to work with extremely small volumes. Some pipettes can even measure volumes as small as a thousandth of a micoliter (Another name for that is a nanoliter).

When working with small volumes like this its even more important to be clean.

Any small contaminant on the pipette tip would be a large contaminant in a mixture of only a few microliters.

So the tips are put into those boxes in the first picture and then autoclaved to sterilize them.

Oh and here’s a closeup of a pipette tip!

-Mister Ed

Rice Husks and Video Games

I was dehusking some rice seeds today in order to sterilize them.
I was dehusking some rice seeds today in order to sterilize them.

Rice seeds grow with a husk around them. After the husk is removed they look like the rice you buy in a store.

Sometimes the seeds from a particular strain don’t grow right.

The lack of growth often happens because a fungus infected the seed from the start.

The fungus is removed by washing the seed.

The husk needs to be removed first to ensure the seed is fully cleaned, just like you have to take off all of your clothes to ensure your body is fully cleaned when you shower or bathe.

While I was washing the seeds in diluted bleach I talked with one of my friends in the lab about streaming Hearthstone.

The oldest member of the lab besides the professor (I sometimes call him the lab fossil) overheard us and was curious about what streaming was.

We described it to him and he was a little surprised that people would want to watch others play video games.

He’s seen his son play first person shooter (FPS) games and he dislikes them, but not for the usual reasons.

The lab fossil dislikes FPS games because they don’t match reality.

He feels they teach people that if you die/fail you can just get a do-over where you try again.

The real world and the real battlefield doesn’t work that way. If you die in real life, you’re dead.

You can’t respawn, you can’t start over from the beginning. It’s over.

He told us about when he was in the army for two years.

All the time they would do drills and the drills were about staying alive.

Not about shooting and killing others no matter the consequences to yourself like in FPS games.

One of the first things the lab fossil learned is that if you hear gunfire, you should immediately drop to the ground (something people in gang neighborhoods already know).

He told us that the way you survive a battle is by finding cover, not shooting your gun.

He said bullets are heavy, you don’t want to waste them, you might need them later to survive.

My past experience with army veterans is that they never want to talk about their experiences.

Out of respect, I’ve never asked them to recall memories that might be painful for them.

This was one of the first times I actually got to talk about war with a soldier, even if he’d never been actively deployed.

It was a good learning experience.

-Mister Ed

My Lab Mistakes

This is the milli-Q water purifier at my lab.
This is the Milli-Q water purifier at my lab.

There’s this water purifier at my lab. Tap water has too much salt and bacteria living in it to be useful for precise biological work. The only bacteria we want growing in our solutions are ones we put there!

There’s a separate water purifier for the whole building that produces de-ionized water. Deionized water removes a lot of the salt content (another word for salt is ions) and all of the bacteria, but its still got too much salt to be useful when we look at solutions for very specific colors. For example, DNA has this faint purple color that would not show up correctly on our faint purple color measuring machines if the salt got in the way.

So to get something even purer than deionized water we put it through an extreme purifier called a Milli-Q filter. Milli-Q is a brand name that means what it is now, like Dumpster or Kleenex. Dumpster is just the word for large trash receptacles now even though it originally meant a specific brand of trash receptacle. Similarly, Milli-Q water is called Milli-Q water even when it is made without a Milli-Q filter.

ThisĀ IS a Milli-Q purifier, so the water we use is actually Milli-Q water. We have several gigantic jugs of Milli-Q water in my lab and they are all filled up from this machine a few times a week. It’s my job to fill them up. I’m supposed to put the jugs under the purifier, come back fifteen minutes later to turn the machine off, and then put the jugs back in their usual positions around the lab.

The only problem is I keep forgetting to come back to turn the damn machine off. I’ve left it on for over an hour a couple times now. The water spills over into the sink and its wasteful. I’ve only recently learned that I have to set a timer or I don’t go to turn off the water purifier. The other people in the lab have been making jokes at my expense. My favorite was about how I “have to drink whatever flows over.”

Just one of the sillier examples of how everyone continually learns new things no matter what their job is. My job is to fill water jugs sometimes and I learned I have to time how long it takes to do it correctly.

That’s all!

-Mister Ed