Dear Fact Finders,

Finding facts is tough. Sometimes it’s downright treacherous, for the body and the spirit. Im dedicating this blog post to a first-hand account from the trenches in lab, following some bad weeks. To be clear, I love this job. Research is purposeful, which is remarkable for a job. That said, risk is ever present. Failure pursues you through the forest like a wild tiger.  With the tiger at my heels, I press onward towards facts and the truth.

The previous week I’ve been addressing reviewer comments for a paper I submitted titled “Biogenic control of manganese doping in zinc sulfide nanomaterials using Shewanella oneidensis MR-1”  A vital step in the fact finding process is independent, anonymous review from your peers. Review ensures that good research get published with rigour and perspective. Naturally, the reviewers requested some experiments related to our results. One reviewer said “Ah, I see you’ve made the bacteria make some materials, but are the bacteria still alive? Does the bacteria still work after you add more material to the solution? What about cells that don’t have the genes you’re messing with, does the bacteria have some other unknown genes that do the same thing?” There are reasonable requests and I’m happy to oblige. The tiger lays in wait.

The only catch is that I performed these experiments, once, over a year ago. I’m unsure how to do them with confidence. I relied on the expertise of my co-first author, who knows this kind of microbiology like the back of his hand. In turn for his help, I focused on the characterization and writing, which he prefered not to do. He’s moved on from the lab, however, so the onus rests with me two address the reviewers’ comments with experimental evidence. The tiger is spots his prey.

I know the procol, the recipe, for the experiments so I simply followed them, adjusting as needed. Day one, we grow the cells overnight in nutritious broth. Then you move the cells to another bottle with no oxygen and specific nutrients. (Yes, these bacteria grow both with and without oxygen.) The first hurdle was preparing this specific, oxygen free broth. Day two, make special broth.  Alright, now we grow them overnight and a day. Day three, I see we’re going to need some metal, manganese oxide, in the next step. Making this requires a day as well, and it’s messy and dangerous, mixing reactive chemicals with hot heat in a chemical hood. Night of day three, the cell are ready to be cleaned and moved to third bottle, a solution with the metal. But what’s this?! The cell growth failed and I don’t have enough cells. Plus this metal isn’t ready yet and will take a few more hours. Its 9pm, I’m hungry, I’m tired, Im cursing like a drunk pirate, and the experiment isn’t even working. I close shop and head home. The tiger lunges.

I write to you from the end of a new day. I addressed all the issues, made fresh solutions, the cells are happily growing in a larger volume, so Ill have enough cells for certain tomorrow, and my metal is prepared, ready to go as well. The tiger is behind me.

Don’t give up.