Flashing my equipment

Well, I’m on the Twitter naughty step again, this time for a week. For ‘covid misinformation’ in a post that didn’t mention Covid at all, but was about the lunacy of forcing children to have a vaccine they don’t need. Well *shrug* it’ll boost my productivity in other areas, with that time-eater silent for a week. Therefore this post won’t automatically appear on Legiron’s Twitter.

So I have a 30 minute video, sent to me via Email, that really blows apart the PCR testing regime, and more. Not just the insane cycles that are enough to find one single strand of viral RNA – less than one intact virus – but about those performing the test.

Well it was clear that, if they are to achieve thousands of tests per day, there simply aren’t enough experienced PCR technicians available to do it. Even if every other research area was closed down and every PCR technician (few technicians are actually PCR technicians) seconded to a tedious and repetetive test that they will know is being wrongly used.

So they aren’t using experienced technicians. They are using anyone they can find. I’ve met a few on Twitter, bragging about how they are now PCR experts. A few lines of conversation reveals they know absolutely sod all about what they are doing.

In the video, Dr. Mike Yeadon talks about ‘pipette training’. No such training has ever existed. When you start out in a lab, a technician or researcher will show you how to use a pipette. Once. You are expected to be able to follow simple instructions because anyone who can’t understand something as basic as a pipette is actually dangerous to have in a lab.

Okay. Time to flash my equipment. If you’ve worked in any kind of lab handling small amounts of liquid you will be very familiar with these. If you only used glass pipettes at school and haven’t seen these before, they might look technical. They really aren’t, but use them wrong and you’ll screw up the whole experiment.

These are still in the case I used to transport them from the lab. They are actually stacked far more neatly than this, I’ve spread them for the photo (fnarr). There are a couple of other brands in there, the ones Dr. Yeadon talks about are the Gilson brand, the ones with dark blue handles. The others are cheaper but not as robust. Gilson pipettes are the gold standard, they are well built and consistently accurate, and easy to calibrate and service.

The one marked A is a 1 ml pipette. You see the thumbwheel near the top of the handle? You can adjust it down to about 0.01 ml. It’s accurate all the way down. B and C are 200 microlitre and 100 microlitre – again, adjustable down to a few microlitres and still accurate.

You don’t use them as they are, they have a tip added. I have put a tip on the 1 ml Gilson to demonstrate (D). You never have to touch those tips, you pick them up from a rack they’ve been sterilised in by pressing the Gilson into one, and you eject the tip by pressing the white button on the back of the handle. I used sterile tips, once they were used they were contaminated (often with something nasty) so absolutely no touching.

To load them, you press the plunger (the round white button on the steel rod) but not too hard. Just until it stops. Dip the tip in your sample liquid and let it up slowly. That’s the critical part. If you just let go, liquid shoots up and can get into the main barrel of the pipette and that’s when you are screwed. A contaminated pipette will contaminate every subsequent use. It’s out of action until you deal with it. It’s not too hard but it does take time and involves disassembling the pipette, something you really don’t want to have to deal with part way through a lot of samples.

The sample you are pipetting must only contact the tip. No other part. To dispense, you press the plunger again, but this time a little bit past the point of resistance so you get the whole sample out. Then eject the tip into disinfectant.

Well that’s the microbiology way. If you are using these in a chemistry lab you probably don’t need to sterilise them first and disinfect them afterwards.

And that’s about it. After that lesson all you need is a bit of practice. Oh there’ll be nuances and adjustments depending on whether you’re pippetting chemicals or microbes or DNA, but that’s the basics.

The thing about PCR and DNA is that it is extraordinarily easy to contaminate a sample. Easier even than when pipetting bacteria. You really want a well trained and experienced technician doing this stuff, not some shelf stacker from Asda looking for a bit of a boost to their bank account.

One of the things I learned during my stint working in a food shop is that most of the staff aren’t really planning to stay. There are career people in there, at least one of the managers had started out working tills and worked his way up to running the entire shop, and there were current floor staff clearly heading on that route. However, most of the staff were schoolkids and students earning a bit of cash while studying. The thing about them was – they did not care about the job. They were doing it purely for the money. They had no intention of, nor interest in, moving up through the ranks of the business. They just followed instructions closely enough that they’d get paid.

So it is with almost all of those currently running PCR tests for Covid. They might think they have been suddenly elevated to the rank of ‘PCR expert’ but they are, to be blunt and perhaps a little cruel, trained monkeys. They don’t have any background in any area of science and have absolutely no idea what they are doing. They just follow a written-down set of instructions. They have no way to determine whether those instructions are correct.

As Dr. Yeadon explained, even the ‘pipette trainer’ had no idea what they were doing. In the case he describes, they actually were previously employed as a supermarket shelf stacker.

An aside. I recall when one of our very fine balances went out of kilter. So I sat down to recalibrate it. The idiot girl child they had employed as admin started out saying ‘Shouldn’t you leave that to…’

I finished her sentence. ‘Someone who knows what they are doing?’. I had completed recalibration before I had finished speaking.

She never spoke to me again. I think I can call that a win.

This was about 20 years ago. It’s only become worse since then.

20 thoughts on “Flashing my equipment

  1. How do you, or the pipette system deal with loss of sample due to tip tube wetting and capillary action. Not all the volume sucked up will end up where you want it.
    Those young folk with no interest in the job. No matter what you end up doing, all jobs have long periods of mindlessness. I dealt with it, deal with it by making a game out of it. Mindless repetitive? Find an easier, for you, way of doing it. A quicker way. A pleasing way – hard to describe, but make pretty patterns, make the noises musical.
    A long boring meeting – play buzzword bingo, or sketch the most obnoxious one there.
    All this is easier with everyone at table having a laptop and using a spreadsheet or simple Draw program. (I speak from a few years ago – long retired – but Committee Lovers live on in voluntary work.) I used to doodle grotesque caricatures of a “colleague” who would explore how far up each nostril he could get his finger, or try and surreptitiously eat the result. My efforts were much appreciated by neighbours who could see the results. Some even asked for copies. And all the time I appeared to be diligently taking in every word and making notes.
    Such larks.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The tips on these pipettes are teflon – expensive but they can be resterilised and reused many times. As long as you have a clean lift of the liquid, with no drops stuck to the sides above the meniscus, there shouldn’t be anything left in the tip when you eject it.

      Yes, there are many boring repetetive tasks in microbiology – I’d often get a large batch of samples and had to apply the same test to every one. Unlike those students in the shop though, I wasn’t doing it for the money (let’s be fair, not many scientists are in it for the money, because the money isn’t that great). I’d designed the experiment so I had motivation to make sure it was done accurately and correctly. Without that motivation it could have become slapdash.

      I avoided long meetings as far as possible. I remember one in which we had to drive from Aberdeen to Perth which meant getting up at 4 am, then we’d have to drive back in the evening. Halfway through that meeting they had a slide presentation. As soon as the lights went out I was asleep! I think most of the rest of them were too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • You can siliconise the tips to make them spectacularly hydrophobic. I always siliconised mine. But this was because I was genetically engineering E.coli at the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this post – and for the link.

    Huge respect for Dr Yeadon – he’s a very brave guy, at great personal risk of being involved in a fatal accident. Or being declared as having died of covid – that seems to be another favourite.

    Liked by 2 people

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