The Lab That Never Closes

The COVID-19 pandemic struck every sector deeply and fiercely. Business, education, production, distribution, transportation and many add on the list depicting there is not a single branch unaffected. The time when research labs were also asked to close with no way to come out of this decision as the situation demands to do so. This immediately affected all ongoing research projects and the entire timeline of investigators. Everything was shut down and many extensive studies were left behind.

Despite this extreme situation, there were many labs which couldn’t be closed all of a sudden where the lock need to be open always. This was not because of an extensive, highly funded ongoing project but these labs are those maintains laboratory model organisms. Mosquito, Drosophila, Xenopus, Mouse and many of all the different model organism labs including prokaryotic and plant labs need to be remained open. All these model systems are maintained in the lab for years and hundreds or maybe for thousands of generations and a fine day is not enough to justify to leave all these. But this unprecedented situation even forced to mark such a decision.

Researchers dragged in certain possibilities of finding a suitable niche to not lose their laboratory population but also to ensure no lab members hit by the virus. Hibernation was one among the plausible strategy to adopt and few labs had succeeded in doing so, although this was not a general strategy for many other lab systems. While other labs were desperate in the resistance of performing experiments, these model system labs were trying hard to maintain their whole study system. Over time pandemic bandwidth started to broaden up which directly proportionated the restriction in the moment and other accessibilities. The situation directly demands a total close down.

The fact that “if rats didn’t get food, they will die” and “if fruit flies egg collection and maintenance is shifted/varied then the entire population collapse” holds strong which mirrored in other laboratory model systems as well. Thus this time is challenging and hard but there is always a way out of it with new possibilities and opportunities. Although slight manipulations in the time regime and life-cycle are applicable for many organisms, there is a major proportion of the population on which a slight modification will lead to a dramatic change especially when extremely sensitive to lab conditions. Rather than changing the protocol, the working strategy needs to overthink.

The decision of closing lab completely is never on the agenda, but within the standard pandemic protocol, things can be worked out. This thought triggered to make time shifts for each lab member. One or at max two members maintaining the entire lab system which earlier used to be double the present number was the immediate solution. It may seem easy but the precision and care for the maintenance is never an easy task. Not just both hands but also the presence of mind and patience is tested here. A glimpse of a second can change the scenario as the lab is of that character and slowly the “new normal” is moving ahead.

How much each step is taken care of, still it remains a band of anxiety in maintaining and keeping the lab system to withstand this pandemic and to keep in normalcy. All these may sound trivial but let this be a realization to appreciate and understand the efforts. Whatever the weather outside, these labs will never be closed and to witness a plethora of innovative studies in the coming days.

By,

Gokul Bhaskaran

BS-MS , IISER Berhampur

Image sources:

  1. Smithsonian Magazine
  2. Utrecht University
  3. World Animal Foundation
  4. Ars Technica
  5. Your Genome
  6. Clker
  7. Displayr
  8. Orkin
  9. ABRC

About the Author: I am Gokul, an undergrad BS-MS student at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Berhampur and a DST-INSIPRE fellow majoring in Biological Sciences. My research interests revolves around understanding evolution and behaviour in molecular, cellular and biochemical aspects. Love working with laboratory model systems.  Please feel free to contact me: [email protected]

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