Category Archives: Things that make me laugh

Molecular Biology is like baking because…

If you are a sufficiently regular reader that you have ever googled me directly to get here, you will know that I am not the only baking biologist on the internet. In my haste and excitement to found my blog I neglected to realise that there is another baking biologist over on blogspot. Luckily, she mainly bakes, and I mainly biologise, so there isn’t too much cross over. Then there’s Sugar Scientist  and Domestic Diva MD and of course Dr Isis, Domestic Goddess.  It seems that baking is quite the past time for scientists in general and biologists in particular.

We have a running joke in the lab that there should be a list of questions that we ask to interview candidates before accepting them as members. It’s really a long list of things my PI dislikes about us (in a Grumpy Old Man way, rather than a genuinely-frustrated by way). The current list stipulates that new members of the lab:

– Must not have coloured hair (in the past 12 months alone mine has been purple, scarlet, royal blue and turquoise).
– Must not own cats
– Must not knit
– Must not have or use a mobile phone, especially in the lab
– Must be strongly opposed to the construction of pylons
– Must not read fiction
– Must attend the lab day out (my PI’s favourite day of the year is when none of us come in and he can have the lab completely to himself)

And the most recent addition to the list (thankfully, added after numerous successes not failures) is that new members of the lab must demonstrate their accomplishments as a baker. Because, ultimately, molecular biology and baking are very similar to one another in pretty much every respect other than scale.

Don’t believe me? Well let me explain…

Molecular Biology 101: qPCR when you need to detect duplication events

Why are you in work so late?! asked my housemate’s boyfriend, when I explained via Facebook chat that that was where I was.

I got really into writing. And now I’ve been here so long that the qPCR I planned to run over night is done, so I may as well do the analysis! I replied

Dedication to the cause! Came the reply. But I have no idea what qPCR is…

I pride myself on talking about science far too much and boring everyone around me, especially housemates and their boyfriends. So how have I possibly avoided explaining what qPCR is?!

DNA Replication

 DNA exists in relatively small quantities compared to how much we need to do molecular biology. In order to work with it – or, for that matter, check whether it is there – we need to make more of it. A particularly awesome feature of DNA makes this possible. It is a double stranded molecule: if you could straighten out the helix that it works itself into it would look like a ladder, and the two sides are inverse copies of one another. (Once you have finished marvelling open-mouthed at my non-existent artistic skills you will, I’m sure, spot that pink always pairs with orange etc).

This means that if you split the molecule in two, it’s possible to rebuild the other side from the side that you have. This happens inside your cells all the time and is called semi-conservative replication.

The Polymerase Chain Reaction

We can simulate this in the lab through a reaction called PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). PCR can best be summed up by my favourite geeky advert of all time. (A geeky advert so immense that for my first 4 months as a PhD student I drank from a BioRad mug for no other reason).

In case that was all a bit much for you, here’s a quick recap:

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The mysteries of lab packaging

I’m sure I’m not alone in having regularly received lab supplies – especially enzymes – shipped in bizarrely large boxes. Today’s offering, however, really takes the biscuit:

This box (with autoclave tape for scale) contained four of these tubes (with my hand to scale). In fairness, it was shipped over the weekend, but all the same that is a shedload of dried ice for four very small tubes!

Amusingly, today I also received this.

This is also a qPCR enzyme and also says that it should be stored at -20C. This one however was shipped in a plastic bag with a (completely melted) ice block. Fingers crossed it still works… not planning on using any precious samples to test it though!

What to buy my geeky girlfriend?

It’s always a bit interesting looking at the various search terms people have used to navigate to your blog. The vast majority of mine at the moment are on a theme of “Science: It’s a Girl Thing” but today somebody arrived at me by searching for ‘Things to get your science nerdy girlfriend”. I’m not sure why that would end up on my blog, but it made me smile, so today’s lunchtime scribbling is my current Wish List (OtherHalf, take note).

The first thing on every nerdy girl’s wish list should be awesome nerdy t-shirts. Just today I have been showing off a not-especially nerdy but no less awesome from Threadless. They’re based in the states, so you do have to pay international shipping, but this is just a good reason to buy 12 T-shirts at a time. (And with the exchange rate, they’re often only around £12 each. Bargain).

Right now I am quite tempted by this one to go with my awesome (also Threadless) dinosaur hoody.




I also am the proud owner of this one from Cafe Press. (I’m not a microbiologist, but my best friend is often confused by what it is that I actually do!)


Despite not being a microbiologist, I still think that the plush pathogens that Giant Microbes sell are pretty awesome:



Apparently every girl likes jewellery, and I have been coveting this DNA helix necklace since my housemate bought it for our medic friend who is taking finals at the moment.




I’m also a massive book worm, and when I’m not devouring fantasy I read a fair amount of pop science. Matt Ridley, Ben Goldacre, Mark Lynas and Nick Lane are some of my favourites




I shall think of some more later…

Science: it’s a girl thing. We are nerdy and that is okay.

This week the EU Commission launched a campaign called Science: It’s a girl thing designed to encourage girls to  become scientists. It involved some nice shorts of female scientists talking about who they are and what they do.

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Shit Scientists Say

I think just about everyone in the world has seen ‘shit girls say’ and all of the associated parodies by now. This made me chuckle:

(I also like that really this is Shit Biologists Say)