Monday, August 25, 2008

Doo be doo

I went Blackberry picking today in Trent Park. It was quite enjoyable, although I now know that geese do not eat blackberries! Dad's just popped out to get some pastry provisions; we're going to make apple and blackberry pie!
There's a bit of a problem with blackberry and apple picking. The bushes are stripped. I'm not one to be racist, but since Eastern European people have been frequenting Trent Park, the pickings have got to be much less good. This is just observation, but it seems true - it has been shown the Eastern European populace has been fishing out our rivers and even eating swans! It seems they strip the bushes and freeze the berries to avoid having to buy things (which is sort of understandable when you look at the average earnings compared to the cost of living, but it's a bit mean!). The apple trees were also bare (there's an old orchard right by Wisteria Walk; you're allowed to take apples) although the presence of chairs suggests students. Besides, there were plenty of cooking apples!
I've been watching The X Files. Mostly season 9 on the TV (I don't know how I lived before on demand channels!) but also on a DVD of Series 1. I've only seen the pilot of season 1, but it's really good!

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Got to school at 10 AM, and we all got our results. Everyone did really well! Results are up again! Yay! I got the following results:

Business Studies-A*
Art and Design-B
Additional Science-A*
English Language-A*
English Literature-A*

Anywho, afterwards, we all went to Nathan's house. He got a new laptop! Then, we played Chairman Mao. It's a bit like Ludo (You get ~5 cards, then put them on the pile. So, if someone put a three of hearts down, you could put down a three of diamonds, three of spades, three of clubs, or any heart card (and, if you're playing with more than one deck, the three of hearts again!)), but the thing is there's loads of secrets rules (tap Jacks when you put them down, say "Have a nice day" when you put a 7 down, etc.), and half the fun is working out the rules.
Then, after a meal of pizza and a quick game of "Resistance: Fall of Man" (awesome game), I went home. Mum and Dad were really happy! We had Fish, Chips and Champagne! Also, I got £100.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Uncle Joe

I've neglected to mention this, but my Uncle Joe died last week. Mum's been over in Dublin (fair city etc.) to the funeral. She wore her bright pink "PARIS" rain cape to the funeral (which was awfully rainy), and says that Uncle Joe looked wonderful when he was laid out. I've only ever met him once, so I feel no great personal loss, but it's always sad to have a death in the family. Auntie Thérèse phoned the other day and she was lost in reverie, so Mum is obviously suffering a great deal too.
Uncle Joe lived in Dublin, then moved to England (up North, for work), then back. He complained he never "fitted in", and Auntie Thérèse reckons it's because he never truly grew up; he always remained a bit childlike, and couldn't bear to see a child suffer. One time when Thérèse was little (it's complicated; Thérèse is technically my cousin, but my Mum was the youngest of 16 so she's younger than some of her nieces), she scraped her knee, and Uncle Joe gathered loads of daisy "so many, [she] couldn't hold them in both cupped hands!". He lived quite a lonely life, and suffered from narcolepsy. His last days were not very nice, with near-daily dialysis, comas and amnesia. It's really a release.
On a lighter note, there's a plethora of Dublin stuff now! I just had a chocolate guiness (it certainly has alcoholic undertones), and there's loads of postcards for my wall of travel. Oh, also, I bought some canvas and am setting to work making a school bag!

Friday, August 15, 2008

End of Work experience

Everyone has been really lovely there. I even got a box of chocolates as a reward! :D
This picture shows some DNA I did. I forget the process, but you make up some agar gel containing Ethidium bromide (Which is a carcinogen! Ooh! Scary! That seems to be everyone's response, but in reality, making the gel is like using bleach in the toilet).
You then mix the DNA samples with some blue die that glows under UV light, run an electric current through the gel (This process is known as Gel Electrophoresis) and put it under UV light!
I made a Quiche today, but it didn't turn out very well. The pastry is good, and the filling is quite nice, but I didn't have any baking beads so I used rice. Long story short: Uncooked rice grains stuck to the pastry. Ick.
It seems I always take on projects and then abandon them, but my friend has been rabbiting away about how awesome zebra finches are. I've been thinking about getting a bird for quite some time (when I was in Madrid, they had massive stalls in Las Ramblas full of canaries, mice, ferrets, chickens, ducklings, iguanas and a sickly looking giant African horned frog), but I suppose I could get a couple of birds should my GCSEs turn out alright (6 days to go! Ick!). This cage costs £29.99, but how about Canaries? Actually, scratch that, I don't know if getting a bird is a good idea. It'd be a burden (more like birden, ha ha ha), and my parents have attested that the chirruping can get annoying.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Ok, so here's info about the polymerase chain reaction. You take the sample (I used mouse tail), digest it using enzymes, then pop it in a centrifuge. After taking the liquid off the top, you pop it in the eppindorfs with another enzyme and then you pop it in a machine which cycles through temperatures.
In the olden days, you had to do it manually (which took hours) but it's a lot easier now, apparently. It heats up to 95 celcius, to get the soloution ready, then goes up to 98 for 30 seconds. This melts the DNA joins, so you get individual strands. Then 65°C for 40 seconds to bind the enzyme together. After which the temperature goes back up to 80, at which point the enzyme manages to make a new strand of DNA. This process repeats until you have enough DNA; so this is why it's used in CSIs - an itty bitty bit of DNA can be rezzed up to yield a tonne. There's rumours that it can make errors occur ("1 in 9,000 nucleotides"), but overall it's amazing! I don't really understand how the enzyme (which comes from a bacteria called "Thermus aquaticus" - that's why you have to heat it up so much; the bacteria likes hot water, so the enzyme won't denature. Incidentally, the protein only denatures at that point, so the high temperature is necessary) works, but the company who discovered its usefullness ("Hoffmann–La Roche") is rolling in it - $2 billion in royalties.
And on an entirely unrelated note, I saw the sweetest plushie; the Herpes virus! Relevant to me because I get cold sores. And only $7.99 - a steal at £4.20! Thinkgeek shall be a prime favourite when I start making my own money.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Anseptic technique

I learned Anseptic technique on Friday (curses for not posting it then; I'd have had a post on 08.08.08!), which is very useful. Apparently it's a major skill.
I'll tell you why; on Friday, I went to see the Microbiologist. We went up to the maintenance area and took water samples - raw water is brought in, softened with calcium, filtered and run under UV light to kill off bacteria. The maintenance system is complex - certain "clean" animal units are ventilated to have positive pressures so any pathogens are blown away from the doors.
Anyway, the taps are swabbed with a 70% ethanol mix and then allowed to run for a bit (in case any water is standing in the pipe - that skews how many bugs show up). The water sample is then taken back, and diluted three fold (this facilitates colony counting). You drop samples with a pasteur pipette - it's a special pipette that drops 1/5th of a millilitre per drop -
onto an agar plate (which sometimes has sheep's blood in it, depending on what you're trying to culture). The plates are incubated and the results are counted up - one colony grows out from each bacterium, so it gives you a vague idea of what's going on. There's almost always bacteria; the engineers allow a "bacteria film" of non pathogenic bacteria to grow inside pipes, as this stops bad bacteria getting a foothold so easily. Of course, some of these bacterias are "oppertunistic", so if the animals get stressed, an outbreak can occur.
What else...On Thursday, I helped take sperm samples from mice for freezing. Male mice have a lot more fat, but you pull it aside, and then cut out the vas deferens and the epididmus. The testes are filled with immature sperm, so they're pretty much worthless, but the rest is useful. You sort of have to walk the sperm down the vas deferens, and then incubate them in petri dishes, so the sperm spreads around. You then collect them using a wide tipped pipette (a narrow one beheads them), put them in nitrogen vapour for a while, then pop them in liquid nitrogen.
Oh, and the vials are called "Eppindorfs".

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Contemporary Christian music band formed in Marietta, Georgia during the 1990s (Third day)

I got to watch surgery on a live mouse today!
The mice are tricked into thinking they're pregnant (they're "plugged" or "sechsed" [second word my own choosing] by male mice who have had a vasectomy). Mice, it seems, do not have access to pregnancy testing kits and so assume they're pregnant. This causes a psychosomatic response in that the mouse goes into pregnancy mode.
The mice are then given an injection to knock them out for around an hour (in labs with more space, the mice are given gas through a little mousey gas mask, but it's too cramped where I was). The injection doesn't kick in right away, so the mice stagger about drunkenly for a bit, and then collapse. They can still be awake - you check this by tickling their feet. If they're awake, they'll twitch.
Anyway, then ethanol is sprayed on their back (this helps keep fur out of the cut), and they're cut open. The oviduct is fished out and embryos are inserted. (I also got to watch embryo modification; fragments of DNA are pushed into an egg cell with a needle, and injected in the cytoplasm in the pronuclear membrane. The nucleus of an egg and sperm are haploid, containing half the information required. So they divide and then fuse; one division is discarded, leading to a "polar orbital" or something, which looks like a lump on the side of a cell. Anyway, the DNA fragments are inserted within the pronuclear membrane, and the pronucleus will then just weave the strands into the rest of the DNA. Truly amazing!). The mice need to be less pregnant than the embryos; the embryos can hang around in the oviduct while the surrogate mother catches up with her body clock, but it doesn't work the other way around - the mother won't wait, but piddle them out instead. The first mouse was a bit too pregnant, so she was put down. The second one was ok, so the wound was sutred (the sutre is made of a fibre that will just be absorbed) and then clamped shut with a little clip. She's then put into a recovery chamber at thirty degrees, wrapped in paper like a little mousey sleeping bag. The mouse is kept seperate for several days, in case her cage mates try and groom her and accidentally rip her open.
I then got to see the pregnant mice, as well as some male mice. The male mice are pretty much killed once they stop mating; if they won't mate but stay in the cage with nobody doing anything until they dont produce any good sperm, the line of mice is effectively dead.
I also did a polymerase chain reaction, like they do on CSI. More on that tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Work experience 2.0

Well, today was another fun day! (That statement sounds laden with sarcasm, but it really isn't.)
In the morning, I watched the team take eggs out of mouse oviducts for freezing. They let me had a go, but it's really tricky. You grasp the ovary with some forceps, and then spread out the oviduct (it looks like a bunch of tight coils). Then, you pop the needle in one end, and compress a syringe filled with a fluid medium into it, so all the eggs go whirling out. You can usually spot the end of the oviduct because there's a lace like fuzz of fat cells hanging on the end, but the samples I used were really neat. I had to look for a slight darkening of the tubes, but I couldn't really spot them, so the samples started drying out and becoming sticky. Apparently, I do have really steady hands, so that's good. (I picked up the technique yesterday).
After preparing the straws (you put in sucrose, which controls how the embryos defrost, and then some air, and then some cryogenic agent, which acts like anti-freeze), the samples were frozen. The freezer uses liquid nitrogen, and it starts off when the samples are put into it. It gradually reduces the temperature (there's a loud "CLICK!" every 30 seconds or so) until about -6°C, at which point it starts beeping. Then, the samples are drawn out, a swab is put into liquid nitrogen, and wiped across the straws. This is "seeding", so it controls where the ice crystals start forming. Then the freezer starts clicking again, until it reaches the melting point of liquid nitrogen. The samples then get split up; some are put in some big tanks in the building I'm in, and some in some tanks in another building, just in case there's a fire in one. The data is then recorded in triplicate, so if a scientist needs, say, a mouse that's prone to obesity, they can look it up (although it won't be listed as 'obese mouse', but something along the lines of "B6.Cg-Rorasg + +/+ Myo5ad Bmp5se/J", which explains the strain as well as any modifications).
The reason for all the sucrose and that is to do with freezing. When you freeze a cell normally, ice crystals form everywhere - including in the cell. Since ice crystals are jaggedy, this doesn't exactly do the cell a world of good. If you freeze it too slowly, then all the water leaves the cell osmotically, and it's too squished to be any use. Putting the cell in the special antifreeze like stuff draws water out and replaces it with the antifreeze, allowing more even freezing. The cells still get pretty misshapen, but the sucrose helps restore the water slowly, avoiding it just asploding everywhere.
They don't just freeze embryos. Recently (in scientific terms), they freeze ovaries, which means they can implant them in mice and get eggs from certain strains anytime they want. This reduces the number of animals they need to use, which is an important thing in animal testing (the other things are "Refinement" - making sure the animals are in the best environments the labs can manage, and "Replacement" - finding new ways of doing things without animals. Did you know that before the pregnancy strips, doctors had to take a woman's blood sample, inject it into the rabbit, then cut the rabbit open and look at its ovaries to find out if the lady was pregnant?). Freezing tissue is quite tricky, as each type of cell has to have different stuff done to it. This is why freezing people and then reanimating them is probably never going to happen, and if it does, people are probably going to come up with an awful lot of things wrong with them.
After lunch, I made the cryogenic something-or-other for mouse sperm. Mouse sperm is different to human sperm, in that it has hooks on the end, and can only survive for about a day if it isn't frozen. (Human sperm lasts for 5 days, so women can get pregnant almost a week after sex! Crikey.) Anyway, I thought I'd be handling all sorts of bizarre chemicals, but it turns out, all you need is a bit of water, some skimmed powder milk (I'm not kidding), and some sugar. Basically, when the mouse sperm leaves the mouse testes, it gets "turned on", and this is bad. Milk stops this happening, although this was discovered by accident; some scientists were unsuccessfully attempting to freeze mouse sperm, when one contaminated the area with his tea. And initially, the whole process is a bit like making a cup of tea, except in a fume cupboard (the scales are in there, and it's good practice for me to try using a fume cupboard). You have to measure out precise amounts of milk and raffinose (that sounds exotic, but it's a sugar you find in broccoli and brussel sprouts. Interestingly enough, it's also the sugar that causes the flatulance associated with brassicas like sprouts, since people and other animals with one stomach don't have α-galactosidase, which is the enzyme you need to digest it. The sugar just passes into your lower intesting, where it ferments. You can digest it if you take a product called "Beano", which contains the enzyme, so Wikipedia tells me), mix them with water, then put it into tiny vials, put it into a centrifuge, take out the fluid (leaving behind the skimmed milk sediment), filter it and then perform some tests to see if it's kosher. I spilled a bit, but I'd made quite a lot.
In other news, one of my Facepunch (at time of publishing, the 98th biggest board on friends has advised me to shop around for my laptop, since apparently I can get a better laptop for less. Unfortunatly, I have no credit card, so online transactions are a no-no.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Work experience

I'm doing work experience at the National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill. It is amazing! I'm not sure how much I can say about it, since it could be dangerous with the animal rights protesters (who are only legally allowed to protest after 6 o'clock on Fridays), so I'm not mentioning any names or anything (I'm afraid I might get it wrong anyway!). Anyway, I was working with a small team who make the genetically modified mice to order. The process itself is interesting; they mate the mice, then harvest the embryos. Then they freeze the eggs using a special process that stops jaggedy ice crystals destroying the embryos. When they need unusual genes, they can insert them into the freshly thawed zygotes. Or, they attach DNA to the outside of sperm and then fertilise the eggs with the coated sperm. Either way, the outcome is the same.
When I got in this morning, the first task was dissection. These big cages of mice were brought in, two brown and one black. All the mice are descended from the House Mouse, but these mice were bred into strains. Basically, you selectively breed the mice into different colours, and then inbreed them to reduce genetic diversity (this helps boost reliability of experiments). As a result, different strains (I'd call them breeds, but you can't always differentiate strains - two mice may look the same, but one might be the "toxic milk" strain, which produces very little zinc in its milk, thus killing all its young. The only reason this strain is still alive is because all the young get "fostered", or the pups are giving zinc supplements.) exhibit different behaviour; the black ones are very skittish and jumpy, whilst the white ones are apparently extremely chilled.
Anyway, the mice are picked up by their tails, and their necks are broken with a plastic wedge thing. Pressure is applied to the back of the neck, and then the front (just to make sure). It's the most humane way, and it's also quite quick. Then, you sort of grip the fur and tear or cut it open, pulling it up over the mouse's head like a jumper. The organs are contained in this little sac - you have to make an incision to get it open as well. There's surprisingly little blood. Anyway, after getting the intestines out of the way, I had to grab the uterus (mice have two), and tug it so the ovary would show itself. After clearing away some tissue (this bit was tricky, I kept dropping the ovary, and one time the oviduct pinged off and ended up in the lungs), you cut out the oviduct, as this is where the zygotes are. I'm quite messy, so I ended up with ovary and uterus on my samples, but if you get really good, you only take the oviduct. You musn't touch the oviduct with the forceps, as this could rupture it, spilling all the embryos all over the place.
After popping the oviducts into a medium to keep hold of it, I watched one person open up the oviduct and get the zygotes under a microscope. The eggs are washed with an enzyme to clear the fuzz of cells around them, and then washed (the enzyme can rupture the egg cells). They're then frozen in these little straw things. I had lunch, then went on to make some hormones using some powder that is worth about £100 per vial (I was really scared I'd spill it!).
Well, toodles for now!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Plans to buy a new computer.

I've spotted a shiny new laptop in the Argos catalogue for £800. My current computer is quite old - we got it in ... 2002? Something like that. It's had a good innings, but it's falling apart at the seams and can't run Portal or Spore. The above laptop can, and it has about 250 GB on its hard drive. The current computer has 75 GB. As you can see, quite a difference.
Minimum wage for someone my age is £3.50 an hour, which means I'd have to work for about 230 hours to rack up £800. In other words, about 30 days of working 9-5. I would love to get a weekend job in Waterstones. The one that's a short distance away (45 minute walk tops) isn't hiring, but I have my eye on the Piccadilly Waterstones. It'd just be awesome to work there! The fares, however, would cost a lot. So assuming I can get a 9-5 job at Waterstones on the weekends, I'd have to pay the fare on the tube. I'm lucky since I can hop right on the Piccadilly line, but the Oyster fare will be about £8. Then there's national insurance and taxes...and ugh, it's suddenly not so easy to work out (you get a £600 yearly allowance before you have to pay tax, but it's clear I'll be surpassing that.)
So, roughly speaking, I need to work for, ooh, let's say 50 days 9-5. So, if I get the job I'm hoping for from next weekend, I'll get the computer by 24th August, 2009?
I'll pop up a thermometer and leave it near the post later.
Oh, and I'm starting work experience tomorrow! I'll post more once I've actually done it!

Saturday, August 2, 2008


We've upgraded our TV and all that to this Tiscali set top box. It's really quite nifty. You can make your own channel, like Sky (except we can't use Sky - it's owned by Rupert Murdoch, who made my Dad redundant during the Wapping strikes, and my Dad refuses to give him any money. Kinda like why my Dad won't buy Bill Bryson books, since Bill Bryson broke the picket line and worked as a journalist.) and I've just watched the first episode of Skins series 2.
Is it wrong to fantasise about a fictional character? Because damn, I'd like to give Maxxie one. Obviously not Mitch Hewer, since he's straight and all, but Maxxie yes. I suppose that puts me one step above those fan fiction writers. Actually, that gives me an idea - Frankie Boyle/Russell Howard slash! I wonder if that exists.
This blog has already taken a decidedly sleazy turn, so I shall stop this post for now.

Friday, August 1, 2008


Salutations! I shall specifically strive to start each statement with "s", so... uh... ugh. That didn't last long.
Anyway, here is my first blog entry! Not ever; I'm a sucker for starting things and never finishing them, but hopefully this will change that. What do you post in a first post? Interests? Well, I enjoy gardening. Funnily enough, I was in St. James's park today, and there was this thing on allotments. It's inspired me to try and grow vegetables in a windowbox - stay tuned for some Pak Choi capers! But not actual capers. I don't like those; too salty.
I also saw some geese in the park. I love geese; for all their guiles, they're wonderful birds. I'm often over Trent Park feeding them - after a while, you can get them to eat right out of your hand! It's a bit annoying when they accidentally nip you, but if you put up too much of a fuss, they usually start chasing you. A couple of clicks of the tounge puts pay to that. I'd get a pet goose, but I don't have a pond in my back garden and it'd probably peck the cat to death. But they're great guard dogs.
Gosh, what else...I was in Europe's largest bookshop today, the Piccadilly Waterstones. It used to be a department store called Simpsons', and it's such a lovely building. I think it's one of my favourite places to be - they have wonderful red leather sofas you can sit on and read. If there's a Captain Tripps pandemic and survive it, I may well hole up there, harvesting Pak Choi from St. James's Park and walking my pet goose. I debated buying a book on Tarot, but I don't really need one; the tarot decks always come with little booklets. A couple of my aunts had "the gift", and some of the things that have come out of my tarot sessions are spookily accurate. It's probably just hokum, but it's reassuring hokum nonetheless.
I was also in St. James's Church, designed by Christopher Wren no less (he's the bloke who did St. Paul's Cathederal after the great fire of London). It's really nice - the interior is all gold rococo styling and whatnot. It's a shame it's all peeling; I left a small donation. There's also this really cool market outside, and I almost got some hydroponic gel to grow the aforementioned Chinese cabbage, but not today, Josephine.
I was going to go to Buckingham palace (I've lived in London all my life and never even seen the changing of the guards!) but it costs about £16 to go in. Bleugh! Considering it's British tax that pay the royal wages, you'd think they'd let the British in at a reduced fare, but I don't suppose that's a fare fair.
What else do I like? Picture Wars, a sort of game in Microsoft Paint, and Drawing Roleplay, a sort of storytelling in Microsoft Paint.
Don't expect posts to be this long in future!