poorly cited cropped


So the question is – am I a good scientist? How can you tell, I hear you ask? Well, you could just take it from me that I’m ..well…showing signs of potential shall we say. Or you could ask my colleague, Professor Stuart ‘Stu’ Dent, what he thinks, but then again his work is pretty esoteric – pretty irrelevant if you ask me….nobody cites his work. Oh wait that’s it – that’s how you measure a scientist – it’s their citation count – how often your scientific papers are mentioned in other scientific papers – the more times that happens the more pats on your shoulder you collect [psst …don't tell Prof. Stu this but my citation count is way higher than his] so na Na Na NA-NA! Ok, ok… enough of the playground banter…but you see how things can easily degenerate into childish attitudes. I’m sure we all get judged, measured, compared – it happens in all walks of life, in many professions….geez isn’t it a pain though?

Maybe I’m saying that because I do not have a stellar paper that is amounting monumental citation counts…maybe I would have a different attitude if I had one of the top 100 cited scientific papers, recently listed in Nature journal. Don’t get me wrong – I have a few citations, and a bit like my ResearchGate score…it could always be bigger, but then again couldn’t many things…..

Where would I place myself in the science class-system? – middle class, lower-middle class? Upper middle class? …or maybe I’m punching above my station – not featherweight, maybe light-bantam weight, not quite super heavy weight, yet! I don’t know – citations are a bit like the currency of a scientists-worth – and like the stinking rich where money makes money, in science circles – citations seem to make citations. Gathering citations seems to be a complex process, and luck can play a factor, but once that citation ball starts rolling…then just like tracking ‘likes’ on blogs, or followers on social media…it can become quite seductive an addictive.

Metrics are all around us…how much attention should we give them? I don’t care – just as long as you don’t have too many followers – the classes just don’t get on well together !

thumb and finger cropped

Just what will Homo sapiens look like 1,000 years from now? …assuming we still roam this ‘smote of dust suspended in a sunbeam‘. It’s a question that was imaginatively tackled in a great article by the ever funny-facetious @garwboy - ‘Human evolution: the next stages‘ – the ‘selective hearing’ innovation struck home – I’m pretty sure I’m well on the way with that particular evolutionary adaptation….

On a practical level, I can think of a couple of evolutionary innovations that would be particularly useful here in the lab. I reckon I’ve opened and closed well-on-nigh 10,387 PCR and Eppendorf tubes in my time, and faced with the prospect of closing another 96 PCR tubes – a specially adapted PCR-tube closing finger would come in very ‘handy’, no?

PCR tubes red tray

“Oi mate, what you need is one o’ them-there PCR-tube closing fingers”

Eppendorfs yellow tray

“Please Mr. Darwin, can I have an Eppedorf-tube opening thumb”

Or….I also often ‘make a fist’ of opening Eppendorf tubes, especially after a day of closing PCR tubes – “no matter “, says my selectively bred ‘super-duper-Eppendorfer-tuber thumb-er’ future self, “Stand aside, I’ll have these opened for ya’ before you can salve those blisters on your poor bleeding thumbs”

So….what evolutionary innovations would help you in you work/life? The ability to dunk your hands directly into liquid nitrogen? molten agarose? The ability to see instantly your RNA samples in the -80ºC freezer?

..or what about TipHead…he ‘s looking every inch what I think we’ll look like in the lab in a 1,000 years time.

et Al. is evolving as we speak on The Twitter @lopsidedlablife



Bell Burnell cropped

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell – astrophysicist overlooked for a Nobel? No matter – she discovered some really cool stuff.

The Nobel prize train has left the station for another year and - oh well – yet again myself, and admittedly many others, are left standing on the station platform looking forlornly as Science-fame chugs off over the horizon. Keep on dreaming eh?

Inevitably there is focus on the winners this year, but what about those who have been overlooked for the biggest of the Sci-gongs going. I found this article interesting at Scientific American – Top 10 Nobel Snubs – which includes Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s omission in the 1974 award for the Physics Nobel. The above photo has been embellished somewhat – it’s taken from the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Life Scientific‘ – where leading scientists talk about their life and work. Here Bell Burnell talks about the excitement of her famous discovery of pulsars, but notably she talks very humbly about being overlooked for the Nobel – “The world’s not fair, and it’s how you cope with the world’s unfairnesses that counts”

Now, where did I put that train timetable again?……

You can follow et Al. on The Twitter @lopsidedlablife

tubes species cropped

Figure(d) Tubus sp. from left to right; Tubus grandis, T. eppendorfis, T. minieppendorfis, T. pcr spp. flatlid and T. pcr spp. roundlid. Botton right; aggregates of T. pcr


Labs are usually ‘crawling’ with tubes – ranging from the larger, more common Tubus eppendorfis spp. microcentrifungus to the smaller Tubus pcr spp. flatlid and the closely related spp.roundlid (see Figure(d), above). The former has a remarkably varied diet and will sustain itself on many everyday lab solutions such as NaCl, buffers, BSA protein, and sometimes even DNA and RNA. The latter, however, survives in more specialised molecular ecological niches and relies on specific amounts of magnesium chloride, DNA polymerase enzyme and plasmid DNA. If caught and tamed T. pcr is more gregarious than T.eppendorfis – enjoying Master Mix cocktails, tube tickling sessions, and can be lost for hours on long hot cycling trips. On the other hand, T.eppendorfis likes nothing better than the rigour of a right good vortexing to mix up it’s lab ‘soup’.

Some Tubus sp. are on the endangered list with numbers of T. grandis (top left, Figure(d)) markedly declining – presumably as a result of extreme competition in the ‘consumables jungle’. Concerns about the future of Tubus sp., and the growing  awareness of their benefit to Science, has led international consortia – led by a group in Tübingen – to propose the whole plastic sequencing of Tubus (employing the new, next-gen ‘Plast-seq’ platform). Here, the omnipresent Tubus eppendorfis is mooted as the ‘reference’ Tubus ‘plast-ome’. Intense research has sought to identify the last common ancestor of Tubus sp. and recent indications point to the emergence of Tubus from around 1953 in the area around The Eagle pub in Cambridge, UK, although there also seems to have been several major duplication events around 1975 (known as the ‘Sanger-ian Epoch’), and a decade later in California (known as the ‘Mullis-oic Age’).

PCR tubes red tray

Fig(ed) An example of domesticated Tubus pcr corralled into a rack, ready to join a HighThroughput community


Tubus eppendorfis can usually be easily spotted roaming labs, not uncommonly in ‘packs’ of 500, but can also be found in smaller groups – typically on the Savannahs of exposed bench tops, and can be tamed or corralled into ‘racks’ (see Fig (ed), above).  Recent evolutionary adaptations has seen T. pcr develop the ability to aggregate in groups of 8 ‘strips’ (see also Figure(d)) thereby gathering as defined communities, known as HighThroughput communities. Politically this has led to some tensions within groups of the Tubus species, with the LowThroughput community complaining of marginalization from opportunities to advance the case for Science.

The future for Tubus sp.? Climate change…population explosion…er…flooding….mmm…Armageddon… thing is needed ….drum roll…….drum roll….More Research Needs To Be Carried Out !

Another thing needed?…… maybe I need to get out of the lab a bit more!?

You can follow et Al. on The Twitter @lopsidedlablife



Gel electrophoresis, or ‘running a gel’ is the ‘bread ‘n butter’ of any molecular biology lab – the ‘stock ‘n trade’ of the Life Sciences – the ‘meat ‘n two veg’ of …..okay, okay – you get the picture. Basically gel electrophoresis works by sieving DNA through the pores of an agar jelly and separates different sized DNA fragments according to their size and charge. Geez, I’ve run dozens of gels in my time….usually all goes well, although who hasn’t reversed the current and lost the samples as they run out of the gel into the buffer surrounding the gel…..[okaaaay….that'll only be me then]. So, it makes me think – what were the origins of gel electrophoresis…who invented it?

Ever heard of Oliver Smithies? Well, he’s a Yorkshire-born American Geneticist who is credited with developing gel electrophoresis in the 1950′s after – bizarrely – reminiscing about helping his mother do the laundry as a child – read more about his inspiration at this Great Experiments entry.

It’s amazing where inspiration comes from, no?….and it’ll certainly make me think twice about driving any ‘tanks’ into ‘buffers’ when things don’t turn out quite right in the lab!


A gel tank….


…..not hitting some buffers













You can follow et Al.on Twitter @lopsidedlablife

LifeTech cornflakes etAlI’ve been thinking about Bioscience branding and logos – I had a fleeting thought about the style of the ‘Life Technologies’ brand and its [albeit tenuous] similarity with the Kellogg’s brand logo. Molecular bioscience research is no longer the realm of privileged academics e.g. the RNA Tie club of the 1950’s – more ‘Tied’ to the multi-billion dollar Biotech industry – off-the-[supermarket]-shelf-kits and ‘solutions to your research needs’ are readily available – just peruse the many flash catalogs whilst drinking your tea or coffee from your ‘Promega’, ‘Qiagen‘ or ‘Life Tech’ logo’d mugs. Less emphasis now of crafting experiments with home-made solutions and cobbled together kit – why? Laziness? Maybe, but another driver is less time – science is driven by short chunks of funding – pressure is on scientists to produce timely ‘impact’ science – grab a kit off the shelf rather than the time consuming act of working up an experiment from ‘first principles’. Much of this fancy branding wouldn’t look out of place on other commodities, no? Qiagen laptop etAl Who knows – maybe in the future some of our breakfast cereals, laptops and trainers/sneakers will be brought to you by one of the big players in the Bioscience market place. Promega sneakers etAl Or what about the other way round? Plasmid preps brought to you by Kelloggs, Apple does proteomics……Adidas ‘for all your high throughput sequencing needs’?

Follow et Al. on Twitter @lopsidedlablife


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