The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Great Loss

Today I am in deep mourning.

No, not because of the presidential election. That was amazing. Though I did find out the results at the Madonna concert, so I might be confusing my elation for the election outcomes with my utter ecstasy at seeing an utterly freaking awesome show (did I say "utter" twice? And am I now flashing back to my first job?).

I am mourning instead the loss of hundreds of millions of human cells . . . and a year and a half's worth of research.

Flashback to earlier last month: I am working frantically on infecting cells with Hepatitis C (Yes!!! I made a virus! I. Made. It. Don't piss me off. I have a lot of it now) and then tweaking around to see if any factors change. Nothing works.

Nothing works.

Nothing works.

Nothing works.

Wait! Something is hopeful (this is how science is, I'm learning: most of the time you either get a "you suck" result or a result that is inconclusive before going back to the default "you suck"). I need to repeat the experiement. . . . .

. . . three weeks go by . . . .

. . . something is hopeful again!

maybei'llhavesomethingtoproposeonDecemberfirstwhenmy graduatecommitteemeetstojudgemyprogress!

Then, three days ago, while out with some girlfriends--without a care in the world, I might add--I get a text from my match who coincidently works in my lab so I never had to sign up for eharmony to find him.

"I have just confirmed that we have a mycoplasma contamination in tissue culture."

What's a "mycoplasma"? you might very well ask. Or what the hell is tissue culture? These are fair questions. However, the answer to these questions really just aren't that interesting unless you absolutely love geeking out to science.

Let me translate that text into plain English:

"All of the cells we experiment on are contaminated with teeny, tiny bacteria. It will cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars to clean this mess up. We are only choosing to save the most important cells. Yours aren't those cells. This weekend, you will need to throw away all of your research including frozen virus that took nine months to make and start all over from scratch."

Hmmmm, that's a bit longer than the original text, but isn't that the way with translations (unless of course you are Bill Murray in Lost in Translation).

As I type this, I realize the full ramifications of this news has yet to sink in (thank you Madonna--I mean--Obama--for giving me hope). But in all honesty, I'm pretty much back to where I started a year ago.

Oh, except for experience. Like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong say, "they can't take that away from me." However, experience isn't going to get me fresh data by December first. And if a gun were held to my head, I might forgo the experience in favor of kick-ass, uncontaminated results.

So today and tomorrow, I start the goodbye process to all of my tiny, contaminated cells. As I pour bleach on each plate, imagining the chorus of tiny screams erupting from the media, I may or may not shed a tear or two. Possibly.

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