Ask the Bored Virologist!

I’m really really bored, and I’m figuring that given the interest some of my rants and various odd stories from the lab have been getting there might, just might be enough interest for this.

Anyhoo, I’m a lab tech in the Virology department of a (major?) research institution. We’ve got monkeys, virii and biocontainment labs, what more could you ask for?

[sub]Don’t hit me… or if you do, hit me nice :wink: real nice[/sub]

While I’m against animal testing, you are welcome to take the monkey off my back. I’ll throw in the woodpecker for free.

Ever since high school biology, I really get the willies when I see (on TV etc.) things multilplying in a petri dish. I shudder to think that when I come down with a cold or infection of some kind that I’m hosting some disgusting things. It sometimes even grosses me out to see clusters of thing that aren’t in a petri dish. Someone started a thread on this fear of clusters a while a go. I guess my question is: have you ever heard of this? Did it ever come up in your schooling? By the way, what kind of educational background do you need to do what you do? I guess I have more than one question.

(There are 3 kinds of people in this world: those who can count, and those who can’t. Leave me alone. )
*Disclaimer: Yes, I know that humans are always host to lots of [disgusting] organisms. I’ve seen the ‘dust mites in the eyelashes’ pics too.

I don’t want anymore monkeys, thank you very much.

Animal testing: (I’m not really sure this is a question but I’ll explain a little bit about it) Can more or less be broken into two catagories. One is the mice/rat catagory. Use of mice and to a lesser degree rats is fairly common in lab experiments. Mice breed rapidly, are cheap to house and have a HIGH degree of similarity in their immune systems to humans.

Primates used in research are almost always used in the final stages of research. Primates are typically VERY expensive to purchase and after you purchase them you are required to pay for all vet care while the animal is being treated. I think most primates will cost 40K+vet/housing costs for the duration of the experiment.
Regardless of species, strict policies are in place before you can use an animal in an infection. Usually you have to have quite a lot of research justifying why you’d expect results from using the animal, then you have to get funding approval. Working with primates one of the stipulations is that once the animal shows visible signs of disease they must be euthanized, to prevent the animal from suffering. Animals treated with pathogens are kept in isolation, animals in a general population are housed as best as they can be given the facilities. (The primates where I work have drinking fountains, stuff to play on, lots of space and space heaters during the winter)

The VAST majority of animal research is researching being done on samples from the animals. I do a lot of work on white blood cells from macaque monkeys which I get from a 50mL blood sample drawn from one creature. There are regulations dictating the number of blood draws, age and weight of the creature. A lot of other tissue types are from necropsies (spelling?) which are tissue sections from dead animals.

As for the fear of cluster…

That’s … pretty strange. I’ve never heard of it or encountered it.

As for education. I have a B.A. in Biology. Most lab tech jobs require a BA in the appropriate field and around 2 years of lab experience. Most of that will be covered in lab courses you take for your major. Personally, I took all of the course work I could related to virology–microbiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, virology, oncogenetics, organic chemistry.

Generally however, as a starting lab tech you will be trained in all of the specific for the type of work you will be doing. Just a biology degree is required and some understanding of the basics. But the better prepaired you are, the faster you will pick up on things.

From your other past posts, I think I have read that you handle the really nasty virii? If not, then ignore this and tell me more about the monkeys. :slight_smile:

Without getting too specific, what safeguards are in place that keep you (or any of your co-workers) from walking out the door with a vial of ebola (or whatever)? If you did take a sample, how long before it would be noticed missing?

Why are you bored, hon? It seems to me with all that interesting stuff you got laying around in the lab, you could have a blast whipping up something. :smiley: If you could do anything you wanted to, what would it be?

A bored virologist is a good thing. Tell me about the monkeys. Are they allowed to live with/interact with the other monkeys? Isolation is a bad thing for most beings.


How do you keep your sanity when dealing with the biosafety folks?

me getting an enhanced BSL-2 going —> :confused::mad::confused::eek::mad::rolleyes::confused:

my hair-------->~~~~~ &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp :frowning:

Are you disturbed by movies like Outbreak? Are you extra clean around your house? Do you wash your hands more often than the rest of your family?

I studied microbiology in college and after my third year I had to drop it as I was developing some really debilitating paranoia.

What is your favorite virus? and why?

Cheers, Bippy

If you come down with a cough or sniffles, do you worry that you picked up something at work? Or have you ever, in fact, picked up something from work?

I’d be a raging hypochondriac if I worked in a place full of germs… wait a second, I work in a 60-year-old building where the ventilation diffusers are covered with black crud and the walls have been known to get puffy. <cough cough> :eek:

Anonymous Coward: I’ll be discussing the monkeys in greater detail farther down :slight_smile:

As for the safeguards for the samples we have. Personally, there isn’t as much as I’d like. And I’m DAMN sure there is no where near as many as the rest of you would like to hear. The safeguards are mainly in the fact that the whole facility where I work is limited access. We need ID badges to get into the gates and we have lots of guards. Within the virology department various levels of access are required to access the various levels of biosafety labs. Combination locks further secure the labs within the higher BSL areas.

But like all security, once you are supposed to be inside very little will actually stop you from doing something.

celestina: Hrrm well I do have the master plan… I have amusing thoughts about creating a monkey army from the primates at work. THen I’d engineer a luciferase virus (the stuff that makes fireflies glow) that would ONLY reproduce in the gonads.

YES! I’d have a monkey army with glow in the dark genitals!
StGermain: Where I work has a little over 5,000 primates, about 4000 are baboons. There are two HUGE pens that each house around 1500 baboons. The animals are allowed to run around and do whatever. Mainly they fight and have sex. You can tell which ones are the fighters because they have no tails.

The smaller housing areas have climbing areas, as near as I can tell the only animals isolated are those who are potentially contagious.

All of the primates are housed in HUGE cages and they have tire/bucket swings, stuff to climb on and paw operated water fountains. And in the winter they have spaceheaters and roofed off places to keep warm and dry. Dr. Goodall (spelling?) visited our facilities and admitted if you had to be a primate in captivity we were one of the best places in the world.
brachyrhynchos: I don’t have that much contact with them. Our labs are already certified and running. Most of my problems are from the fact that I do all of the purchasing and coordinating the repair of equipment. Nothing sucks quite as much as explaining to an electrician in a hot BSL-3 NOT TO TOUCH ANYTHING WITHOUT GLOVES!


Outbreak didn’t bother me. It was pretty funny :slight_smile: I had the chance to have lunch with the Colonel who was in charge of the team which The Hot Zone was about… which in turn was the basis for the movie Outbreak.

Deadly viral outbreaks can and will happen. My ambition is to be a researcher who is goes out and studies them.

Outside of the lab the only difference in my behaviour is that I soap up my hands more throughly than most people. And my apt is usually a mess. A friend/coworker of mine used to joke, we’d assign out apts BSL numbers.

I hit a BSL-OMG once :stuck_out_tongue:
Bippy the Beardless:

Ebola. I’m interested in what makes it so pathogenic. It’s lethality in humans means we’re not the natural host for the virus and we haven’t identified it yet. It’s an interesting question as to what is the natural host and what causes the lethality in humans.


It takes about half a year to get used to working with BSL-3 pathogens. But after you get used to it you view it as just a job. I am FULLY aware of when I’m working with virus in ways that could result in contamination. On the times when I am handling opened tubes I’m VERY careful, and I check my gloves/suit before and after working with it to make sure I’m not taking unnessecary risks.

I’ve taken some chances I shouldn’t have, but I was lucky and they were relatively low risk. You just need to reflexively think that what you are doing is dangerous and you take the extra several moments to do everything as careful as you humanly can.

At the hospital I work at, they want to give us the smallpox vaccine----good idea or bad?

Cyn: You’d get a nifty scar :slight_smile:

As for the smallpox vaccine…
Very long story condensed to 1 line.

If ANY strain of smallpox is released in the US better to have the vaccine than not.

Err I really shouldn’t even say that :stuck_out_tongue:

Are you hiring?

I had a really crappy day at work today. It was the last straw. I’m thinking about finding another job.

(BS in Microbiology, about a year and a half lab tech experience)

How nifty a scar? I have quite an immpressive one from an innoculation I got as a kid, I wonder if it’s be as large…and why it would scar so much?

If a lot of the labwork is just done on blood samples why not get human volounteers instead? (not a loaded question, just curious)

CRorex, you mentioned a piece of equipment in one of your other threads called an electropor-whosi-whatsit (sp?). I got the impression it uses very high voltage.

What is it and what do you use it for? Do you let the baboons play with it?

Do you have to draw the blood from the monkeys yourself? Or do you have a monkey phlebotamist?

[hijack] How many micro people do we have on the boards? There’s you, CRorex, me (I get my BS in May), brachyrhynchos, Smeghead, and I think someone else…

[/end hijack]

Just out of curiosity, where do you work?