In which I snap

OCD Antibody Box

I’m not a neat freak or anything, at home or in the lab, but sometimes, enough is enough. Behold the new arrangement of our lab’s stash of fluorochrome-conjugated secondary antibodies. Is it not a thing of beauty?

(A moment of silence to admire said new arrangement.)

It goes without saying that if I catch anyone filing them back in the wrong slot, they’re toast.

I’ve spent far too many hours of my life digging through box after box of identical-looking tubes: pulling them out, squinting at the unintelligible labels, putting them back, checking out the next one. Repeat ten million times. I’ve been in labs where the tubes were all labelled in Chinese; or were missing the concentration; or whose pen marks had long since rubbed off altogether, but people in the know recognized what they were by distinctive nicks in the lid or smudge marks on the side. I’ve contracted frostbite going through hundreds of snow-covered boxes in the back of the -80 freezer, untouched by human hands since the early Pleistocene.

It’s getting pretty bad in our communal cold spaces. I think this is a predictable outcome when a lab starts out very small (one person doing experiments, who knows where everything is because it’s all his) and expands organically.

After my last experimental foray, when it took me two hours to find the red phalloidin, I am almost, but not quite, thinking about a bar coding system. Can someone please shoot me?

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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3 Responses to In which I snap

  1. Mark Field says:

    Not sure how the labels perform at cryogenic temperatures (worth checking before you do this), but a label maker is a godsend here, no more unintelligible handwriting or biro wearing off:

    Get yourself a label machine (the Brother p-touch ones are good)
    Make labels,
    stick to tubes
    repeat as required

    Then repeat with the box, and keep the label maker next to the box if you anticipate new tubes.
    You will have to physically lockup the label maker otherwise it will go for a walk when someone finds something else they would like to label…

    Works _really well_ for those manilla folders you keep in hanging files as well

  2. Hi Mark, as it happens we do have a Brother P-touch! It’s awesome. But not everyone uses it, and that still doesn’t help you find something if you don’t know what box it’s in, or find it easily in a full box (since the label is on the side). Also, it’s no cure-all: the red phalloidin I was after the other day was labeled with the P-touch but all it said was “Phalloidin” (we have four different colors) and some initials. (Fortunately the slight pink tinge was a giveaway).

    For future reference, the labels don’t fare well in liquid nitrogen.

  3. You really need the dedicated low-temperature labellers if you’re going that route. Yes, they are way more expensive than consumer Brother P-touches and similar.

    Barcoding is, I think, a necessary evil for large collections of samples, but would be pretty frustrating for small numbers of reagent tubes. Imagine pulling your antibodies out of the box vial by vial, and having to scan them in order to figure out which was which? Ugh.

    FWIW I like your simple, low-tech, and common sense approach. Now you just have to beat it into your lab people (start with the grad students, they will take the longest). 🙂

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