Illustration by Angelika Manhart
The sincerest form of flattery

Pride and Minipreps

By Yelena Bernardskaya

The serene atmosphere of the lab had been all but brought to a halt by a most extraordinary rumor concerning the current state of Miniprep efficiency. While it is common knowledge that the Miniprep is a most basic technique of using chemical components from a kit to extract circular DNA from bacteria, it is not common at all for a multitude of advanced scientists to simultaneously lose the long-ago acquired capacity to perform the procedure in the span of a fortnight. The fruitless attempts to troubleshoot the problem were eventually abandoned, one by one, by the now exhausted lab personnel.

Presently, as the problem had reached unacceptable proportions, Dr. Smith made the executive decision to investigate the issue and find a solution. The reputation of Dr. Smith had preceded him in terms of his superb analytical ability and a certain penchant for untangling mysteries of the biochemical variety. He therefore began his endeavor with full confidence from the other lab members and an assurance some felt was ill-deserved.

The first attempt of Dr. Smith’s investigation involved growing new batches of bacteria, as his first supposition was that the rest of the floor was in fact using an outdated antibiotic in the concoction used to grow the bacterial cells. This, he thought, would not kill the unneeded bacteria and instead result in a dreadful DNA yield. At the end of the work week, Dr. Smith was most disappointed to admit that the antibiotic was not to blame, since the preparation of DNA from the new batches did not improve the amount of DNA that he was able to acquire.

Perplexed, Dr. Smith took it upon himself to solve the problem by the following week. Since his previous efforts had ruled out the issue of growing the troublesome cells, he focused his attention on ascertaining the quality of the solutions that had been supplied by the biochemical company. As befits his meticulous nature, Dr. Smith tested each bottle for content and expiration, occasionally going as far as substituting one chemical for another to be sure of its potency. Sadly, his efforts were in vain and the DNA yields remained unimproved.

The entire floor had been abuzz about Dr. Smith’s exploits for some time. Points of discussion were: his technique, his equipment, and his general qualities of a personal nature. He had begun with the utmost confidence but by the end of two weeks of work those supporting his efforts had dwindled to a few close colleagues and an elderly professor who remained convinced that the issue lay with the carelessness of the new generation.

Having exhausted any possible concern with the chemicals, Dr. Smith retired to his office in an attempt to reframe the problem and consider all that may have needed considering. As no solution presented itself, Dr. Smith decided that a change of scenery might be just the thing and, excusing himself from the lab, went for a stroll through the park. Following the walk, he returned, convinced that the improper configuration of acids and bases was to blame, only to be told that the problem had been solved by one of the undergraduate students. Startled, Dr. Smith inquired to the nature of the issue and how the student had arrived at a solution, at which point he was informed that the issue was with the calibration of the instrument that measures the amount of DNA after the Miniprep. The student then restarted the computer software and recalibrated the machine, instantly returning the lab to functional order. Following this news Dr. Smith proceeded to take the rest of the day off.

[In the style of Jane Austen]


Yelena Bernadskaya is a postdoctoral researcher at the NYU Biology department studying embryonic development. She does a lot of minipreps.