Control Samples: Three Terrifying Tales for Scientists

Lab science cartoon

Carl may not scare her…but did she remember the controls?

Warning: This blog contains stories about phantom serial killers, frankenfoods, mysteriously phosphorylated bands and unrequited ligations that may be disturbing to some people. Children or scientists prone to anxiety over irreproducible results should read this with their eyes shut.

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Clouds hung low in the sky, and the late October wind howled between the buildings, rattling the window panes of the basement laboratory. The grackles cawed in desperate warning, their flocks changing the evening color palette from gray to black. I was as unsettled as the weather, watching my blot slosh back and forth. Continue reading

The Creepy, the Scary, and the Spooky for Halloween

jackolantern_editIn the United States, the first of our autumn holidays is Halloween, which is celebrated by crazy costumes, scary stories and lots of sugary candy. Children enjoy this holiday—after all you get to dress up as your favorite superhero or cartoon character and go door-to-door filling bags with candy. Many scientists enjoy the holiday as well. Our tradition at Promega Connections is to celebrate the holiday with the spooky, creepy and slightly strange stories that intrigue us. You can look back and see our very first Halloween blog: Top Ten Uses for Pumpkin or look at our compilations of “spooky” science stories from years past.

I looked at the Promega Connections blog over the last year, consulted with my fellow bloggers and came up with a list of stories that lend themselves to our annual tradition:

  1. Sara’s blog about the recent work illustrating that caramel apples seem to create ideal growth conditions for Listeria monocytogenes leads off our list. What better story for this holiday and one of its most famous treats?
  2. Fall is camping and fishing season for many. Might we recommend an alternative to the midnight ghost story around the campfire? A story about plague perhaps? After all national parks, which represent on of the major places in which humans and wildlife interact, also are one of the major places where we see outbreaks of plague, as we report on in this blog post.
  3. Photosynthetic organisms seem innocent enough, and phototropism experiments are really cool. But did you know that plants can listen? When plants hear the sound of a predatory caterpillar munching on a leaf, they set off their chemical defenses. What else can they hear and respond to?
  4. If you want to cause plague, apparently all you need is pla, and researchers were able to convert an ancestral strain of Yersinia pestis that did not cause pneumonic plague to one that was virulent.
  5. And speaking of creepy plague and Black Death, what could be more creepy than going to Bronze Age graves and looking for plague?
  6. If you are a sea star, or just happen to really like sea stars, or perhaps are a seagull that eats sea stars, then this story about a virus that was causing a massive chronic-wasting-like disease in sea stars is pretty scary.
  7. And of course, could we possibly leave out the only blog post this year to reference the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Apparently the parts of our brains, like the amygdala, associated with more hedonic pleasure are responsible for our enjoyment of tales of the supernatural.

eh16_maizeFinally, there is the scary part of everyday life—those things that drive us crazy in the lab, make us catch our breath, or strike our forehead with the palm of our hand. Ed Himelblau has captured these sort of things beautifully.