Swabbing the decks
Continuing the theme of the most recent post, the office computer and the classroom kept me out of the laboratory. Still, one day, fed up by too many clicks, I went into the small room I use for plant growth experiments in darkness (or dim light). Years ago, this room had been the departmental photographic darkroom; not surprisingly, it was idle. But dark. A few years ago, I got permission to use the room for experiments where I need high quality darkness. The old doors festooned with weather-stripping were still keeping the light out pretty well. My experiments in the darkroom had been going forward well, until I spent the summer of 2018 at MBL. This distracted me sufficiently that it has not been until around now that I could resume. To start out gently, I went into the darkroom, just to have a look.
I found things in reasonable shape. No flood or whirlwind had intervened. Things were a little cluttered and dusty. And the white bench paper I had taped down on the surfaces was peeling up and stained. I passed a pleasant hour untapping all that old paper and putting down new. Added bonus–I tidied up the bits and pieces of lab gear.
Thus inspired, I took a first step toward getting back into the stride of these experiments. After all this time, getting the big flywheel spinning will take a grunt or two. This gentle first step was to do nothing more than to check on seedling growth. These experiments use the roots of maize (“corn”) and to get a set of, say ten uniform roots, I need to sprout about 20 kernels. The experiments start with the roots being 3 to 4 cm long and nicely straight. A very long time ago, I did this by sprouting kernels in what I call a jellyroll. Basically a roll of spongy paper stood up on end. The kernels run along the top edge of the roll and are oriented so the roots grow straight down between the layers of the spongy paper. Two years ago when I started these experiments, the jellyrolls gave me stunted roots. Not good. I made an almost Rube Goldberg workaround (read about it here).
Despite being cute, the workaround never worked right. I thought, well, let me try the good old jellyroll one more time. On a Friday, I set one up in the newly tidied darkroom. I was due to check it on Monday (when roots should be about the right length, if all was well). That weekend, I came down with a bad cold and then went off-campus to give a seminar. After that, I tried again and happily, the jellyroll worked perfectly. I am not sure why it went wrong before. And I don’t need to know, unless the jellyroll goes south again.
Now, when I say the jellyroll worked perfectly, I meant that the roots were straight and long, and nearly all the kernels germinated. But to be sure, the top edge of the jellyroll sprouted a crop of mold. Not enough to ruin the seedlings but enough to be a little ugly. I will do one more of these simple tests to see whether I can hold off the mold by giving the kernels a quick bath in bleach. Not the world’s most exciting experiment but one that probably will give a clear answer.