Loki does science

Sigyn Is In Love

Remember all the fuss with the power tools and racks and seeds?  It has all come to fruition.

The seeds came through their cold nap very well, and the students were able to plate up their seeds.  Well, mostly able.  Despite being instructed to pipette their seeds into a straight line on the Murashige and Skoog medium, some of the kiddos were guided by a certain Jotun who shall remain nameless and just plopped all of their seeds in the center of the agar.  Others, in a demonstration of obtuseness which will live in infamy, carefully pipetted all of their seeds onto the lid of the petri dish.

Still, enough of the little geniuses did it near enough to correctly for the plates, after two weeks in a growth chamber, to be worth looking at.

arapidopsis seedlings2

Sigyn thinks they are adorable and wants to hug them.


The students are using them to study heredity.  One of the parental lines is “wild type”.  When viewed through special glasses under a blue light, the little plants don’t fluoresce and just look like dark shapes.  The only brightness is where the light source is bouncing off the background.


The other parental type, however, has been Meddled With and gifted with a gene originally found in jellyfish.  The plants produce green fluorescent protein (gfp) in their cells.  When viewed with the fancy glasses under blue light, the plants fluoresce–they appear green and are clearly visible– not just shadows.

arapidopsis glow

Theoretically, the gene for fluorescence is supposed to be dominant.  Let’s look at the F1 plants, the hybrids between glowy and not glowy.  All of these seedlings have one copy of the glowy gene.


Great Mendel’s peapods!  All glowy!  Our hypothesis is correct!

Further observation of seedlings that are the result of crossing this F1 generation with itself shows that glowiness is inherited in a 3 to 1 ratio over non-glowiness, thus re-confirming that the gene for green fluorescent protein production is, in fact, dominant.

That green glowiness is a neat trick, I must say.  And yes, Sigyn, the little seedlings are cute.  But let us bring science to bear on the real question raised by this little experiment: What would it take to get this gfp into me so that I can glow green in the dark?

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And While I Am Down Here…

While I am down here in Room 303, showing you where I hid the human female’s ID card, I thought I’d do a little more mischief.

Room 303 is where most of the lab dishes get washed.  Test tubes, beakers, graduated cylinders–you name it, if it’s dirty, it comes here.

These tubs are full of spirometer parts.  Since people have breathed through them, they have to be soaked and disinfected to make sure no pestilence is spread.

gonna spit in the tub

In theory, this results in a sanitary experience for the next group of cardiopulmonary lab experimenters.

In practice, I always make it a point to spit in the spirometer-part-soaking-tubs, as part of my ongoing research into the effects of Jotun saliva on the cardiopulmonary health of university undergraduates.

I have reams of data to date.  Can publication be far behind?

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DNA Stands for Do Not Attempt…

The students are going to be studying DNA in lab this week, and Prep Staff is running a text experiment to make sure that all the reagents and equipment will work properly.

The experiment involves something called PCR.  That stands for …. I’ve never figured out what, exactly.  I’m going to assume it stands for Please Contribute Resources, so I’m doing exactly that.

Because I’m helpful like that.

Anyway the idea is that it can take a teeny, teeny, teeny amount of a person’s genetic material and make a bazillion copies so it can be analyzed.  Prep Staff is getting a sample from various people on the floor.  Obviously, they want the finest DNA possible, so I’m giving them a sample.

I have my little tube full of sterile saline, here.


Next, I label a cup with my name…


Well, that was predictable.  Sigyn, my love, you’ve contaminated my cup!  Your lovely DNA is all over it now and I’ll have to get a new one.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  I’m going to swish the saline in my mouth for a moment or two…


Spit it into this new cup…


And then pour it carefully back into the tube.


That is some precious Jotun saliva, right there.

Next, the tubes of saliva will go into the big centrifuge.

But first, a little ride…


After a spin, it’s all alcohol and primers and a long, boring wait for the thermocycler.  We’ll check back in later to see how it all turned out…

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Fun With Photosynthetic Pigments

One of the student lab exercises the human female has to support addresses that all-important biological process, photosynthesis.  One of the activities involves poking test tubes of various photosynthetic pigments into a spectrophotosomethingorother and seeing what wavelengths of light they absorb.  It’s actually rather cool.

But the best part is that these pigments have to be extracted from plants.  One cannot just waltz down to Pigments R’ Us.  The protocol is very long and very finicky, and it involves all SORTS of nasty organic solvents.  It takes all day, and it’s about as close to alchemy as it gets.  At every step, something could go wrong, necessitating starting all over.  Sooo much opportunity for mischief!!

The human female and one of her Tech II’s are attempting the process today.  They’ve whooshed up the spinach and a bit of yellow squash peel (for extra xanthophyll) in a blender full of acetone with some calcium carbonate. (I stayed FAR AWAY from this step!!)

Then they pulled the resulting slop through a Buchner funnel with a vaccum, and the resulting lovely green liquid has been “washed” with water.  That is a very fiddly step, because it takes one person to pour the water s l o w l y into the separatory funnel while someone else gently rocks it and “burps” it periodically to vent the gas it gives off.  I got to help with that this time, because burps are always funny.

They’ve reached the point, about an hour into the process, where the separatory funnel is placed in the hood and the layers are allowed to settle out for about forty minutes.  What they should have is a nice bilayer, with clear water and waste on the bottom and the chlorophyll and other pigments in a nice, dark green layer on the top, all ready to be decanted for the next step.

Let’s have a look!


Norns’ nighties!  That is not at all how things should look.  At this point, there’s nothing to be done except start over.  Perhaps the human female was holding her ugly face the wrong way…

More spinach, more squash peel, more calcium carbonate, more acetone, more getting very much out of the way!, more water, and more rocking and burping.  Surely this time…


Ehehehehe!  And we haven’t even gotten to the petroleum ether part, let alone the rest of the separatory steps!

We could be here all day, folks.

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What’s Behind Door Number 302? Part IV: ‘Cause This is Chiller

There is more than gloves, Squiggly/Leggedy Things, and Planty Things in this room.  This is also where the human female and her staff keep the ultra cold freezer and the special refrigerator that can hold flammable things.  That last appliance doesn’t make any sense.  If something is on fire, it’s not exactly cold.

Let’s see what we have.

This is the inside of the ultra cold.  It runs at about negative 50 centipede.


I know what you’re thinking, that I used the wrong word.  I, Loki, the Silvertongued, do not make errors of vocabulary or elocution.  This is where the human female’s staff puts the naughty, vicious centipedes after they are done observing them.  You thought I was joking about Centipede Valhalla, didn’t you?  By now they have probably run more than fifty centipedes through this thing.

The colorful blocky things are for holding test tubes of DNA and whatnot.  Congratulations, human female!  Now all your equipment has been contaminated with Jotun DNA.  Your next PCR experiment should be very interesting.

Oh, Sigyn!  You are shivering!  Let us move to the flammable fridge.  It’s bound to be warmer in there, one way or the other.

Some of these containers look very old.  Look at the dates!  They haven’t been used in years.  (I don’t think they clean out this fridge very often…)


Hmm.  Two jars of lanolin.  Greasy sheep paste!  You could have yourself some very soft skin, Sigyn.  But if I’m reading the labels correctly, the humans use this stuff as a carrier for plant growth regulators.  What do you think, my sunflower?  Shall we open the tiny container of indole-3- acetic acid, an auxin which promotes shoot growth, mix up a little batch, and see if we can make you taller?


Just kidding!  You are perfect the way you are.

Sigyn is interested in these jars of green liquid.  “Chlorophyll extract.”  <sniff, sniff>  Whew!  Essence of spinach, with hints if diethyl ether, petroleum ether, and acetone.  Whiffy stuff!


Yes, my love, chlorophyll is supposed to be healthy for you.  No, I do not think you should drink this.  I do not think the acetone would do you any good.

If you are still craving something green when this adventure is over, we can go and have a nice salad somewhere.

In the far corner of the room is the ice maker.  Sometimes, when the human female has been particularly vexing, I come in here to think and cool off.

There’s a big sign saying that the ice isn’t for human consumption,


but I’ve been known to nibble…

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The humans, bereft of magic that can make anything be anything, spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out why things are the way they are and how they get that way.  Hence, next week’s biology lab will address the subjects of genetics and heredity.

I confess I do not know much about this subject, just that if you cross a mortal with another mortal, sadly, you will probably get another mortal.  There seems to be no way around it, which is why Midgard is so backward.

Since there are laws regarding the obtaining, studying, and disposing of humans, the students will be examining an even less intelligent organism — corn.   Apparently if you cross corn having some big letters with corn having some other, smaller letters, you get a crop of corn that has mixed big and little letters.   This excites the mortals for some reason, as does the fact that if you take those mixed-letter corn plants and let them make plant whoopie, you get some specific ratio of big to little letters.

I know. I don’t get it either.

Thus, the students are to be presented with several dry ears of corn that supposedly illustrate some of these phenomena.  The corn is useless for anything else, including eating.  Why?  Well, first, because it is not “eating” corn.  Also, it is very dry, and very old.

And also bug-ridden.  You see, there is a small, reddish-brown beetle that has made its life’s work, its noble contribution, the eradication of all this boring, alphabetic corn.   It is quite persistent and completely tireless.  It seeks out dry corn wherever it may be found and gobbles it right up like Volstagg at a feast.  It leaves behind quite a lot of powdered corn starch mixed with beetle poop.  This makes the ears unpleasant and messy to work with.

I may or may not have shown it where all the corn is stored…

At any rate, I have arranged that last week and this, the human female has had the task of cleaning all of the corn ears, brushing away all the fecal fallout, dusting out the display boxes, and re-shrink-wrapping all the ears.

Let’s drop on on her progress, shall we?

Here’s a really messy display box.


Those little beetles have been very thorough.    This one’s even worse!  Look at all that frass!


After some vigorous thumping and brushing, the box now looks like this:


I suppose it’s an improvement, but now the poor students will actually have to study.

The bagged and/or shrink-wrapped ears are just as infested.


Look at all those sad little corpses of beetles who gave their lives for the cause.   I bet the human female doesn’t even stop to mourn.


She’s dusting off the ears, putting them in this plastic tubing,


and using this tool to shrink the tubing to fit the corn.


It is currently off, which is why I can bear to be near it.  Heat guns and Frost Giants are non-mixy things.

Here’s an ear all ready to have its diaphanous cocoon shrunk to fit.


The close-fitting plastic sleeves will keep the kernels from falling off the cob and keep the beetles from re-attacking the ears.


Right up until the point I poke holes in all the plastic…

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Floral Remnants, Part I: Beware the Bilabiate Corolla

The students in some of the human female’s biology classes actually get around to studying flowering plants.  Sigyn thinks that might be the best week in the whole semester.  Not only does she enjoy going to the market and buying armloads of snapdragons, Alstroemeria, and carnations, but the human female lets her have all of the posies that survive the week.

Sigyn especially  likes the snapdragons, because the little flowers can be made to open and close.  A little imagination and a bit of practice, and you can make them talk or sing or tell stories.


This semester, the snapdragons are pink. 

Usually, these blossoms are safe to play with, Sigyn, but watch out!


The pink ones can be a little feisty.

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