Wednesday, August 1, 2007

In the strain 2000...

I had no idea that fame and glory were on the line.

As you have almost certainly gathered from previous entries, I work in a yeast genetics lab. It’s very fascinating; I’m sure you can imagine. One of the things we do on a routine basis is generate new mutant yeast strains… strains with mutations in genes we hope to study and understand (the former is easy, the latter rarely occurs).

As new strains are created, they are given systematic names: MAYxxx, where the prefix MAY is constant and the xxx represents the strain number, increasing by one with each new strain. Permanent stocks of the yeast strains are stored at -80°C until they are needed for future analysis, and the pertinent information is entered into a central lab database. When I joined the lab in 2004, the group was up to about MAY800.

In the past few weeks, I had noticed that we were approaching MAY1000. It turns out, in fact, that Daksha happened to be the one to create MAY1000. Could’ve been any of us: me, Rhonda, Annie… even Pavol. But, fate smiled on Daksha. Oh, I thought, how nice: the thousandth strain of the lab. It was a nice yeast name, a nice round number, but that was all. Not thinking much of it, I carried on with my western blot.

A few days later, at a lab lunch, my advisor revealed an “official” certificate he had manufactured with a gift card to Panera Bread. He announced, “We have reached an important milestone in the lab: our thousandth strain. And, Daksha, bless her heart, is the genetic engineer responsible for MAY1000. I now present her with this certificate acknowledging her achievement and this gift card to Panera Bread in recognition of what she has done for the lab.”

I was floored. I had no idea that there was official recognition or a prize up for grabs. Had I known, I would have toiled at the bench day and night, generating new mutant strains like gangbusters.

Outwardly, I was calm, serene, even congratulatory. But on the inside I was fuming, insanely jealous. It was at this moment that I committed never to be scooped like this again. I committed in my heart that I would be the Frankenstein to MAY2000. I would be the object of lab-wide adulation. I would have the points.

Here’s the catch. The lab has been in operation for over a decade and a half. I’ve been in the lab for about three years, and, if all goes as planned, I will be gone in less than a year. At the present rate of strain creation, MAY2000 will be created and maintained at -80°C in suspended animation by the year 2015. Give or take. By that time, I (and likely the other current lab members) will have moved on to better (or at least different) places, and a whole new complement of minions will be about my advisor’s business.

Thus, I hatched a plan and executed it today. In a recent burst of baby strain making, I had four new yeasts to add to the collection, which were named (in order): MAY1009, MAY1010, MAY2000, and MAY1011. Did you catch it? Read the list again, slowly. That’s right; now you see it. I have engaged in preemptive straining. I don’t anticipate this subtle tactic to be detected any time in the near future. However, in a dozen or so years, as the lab nears the creation of its 2000th strain, my advisor will almost certainly make a startling discovery: I’d already made the 2000th strain. Right after I made the 1010th. He’ll find MAY2000 in the database and will finally be forced to give me the respect I deserve (or at least crave).

I can’t wait. I will be in my late thirties when I eventually get the call. He will tell me that he is near retirement and has hit a landmark event that he couldn’t have reached (or at least didn’t reach) without my contribution: the 2000th strain. He’ll invite me to the lab lunch. I’ll graciously accept the offer (I’ll request that we eat at Spice Island Tea House). Over pad thai, he’ll give the speech about my accomplishment, this important milestone. He’ll reach across the table, shake my hand, and present to me the certificate and gift card. I will give some small speech, overcome with surprise and humility, just as Daksha was after she’d made MAY1000. I might also be heard uttering to the then current crew of jealous lab underlings: “Scoreboard!”

In the game of life, how many points is the 2000th strain? I’d say at least ten, since that is how many years this sort of accomplishment typically takes. I just took the accelerated course.


Russ Parker said...

la. Late thirties in 15?

yajeev said...

"in a dozen or so years"

Andy said...

I hope the next genetics lab you work at encourages you to turn me into a cat-human. It would be so fun to work at the same place as you.

That whole ceremony probably stung more than it should have since the prize was Panera. When your boss was planning for the celebration, he probably hoped it would be you.

For the numbering race, I had a similar one where I work. I got the 1000th ticket in one of our ticketing systems. It was late on a Friday night. The system was on the 9997th ticket, but I had only two items to enter so I waited a little while. Eventually I got another item to enter so I did three at once and got #1000. It was immediately closed on Monday since a next level supervisor deemed it unnecessary (which was not my intention), but it was still sweet. There was no celebration, though. The feat was only recognized by one other person I work with.

yajeev said...


What a feat indeed. Congratulations on the 998th, 999th, and 1000th tickets.

Hats off to you.

Russ Parker said...


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