Sit down and be nice, boys and girls. I would like to tell you the story of a foolish man’s complicated relationship with one of the notorious, labor-demanding, time-consuming, and life-threatening lab works to ever haunt my dreams. The sodium dodecyl sulfate- polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis or as the scientists call with the affectionate name of SDS-PAGE. There will be plenty scientific jargon in this post so hold on tight and brace yourself FOR SCIENCE!
My encounter with SDS-PAGE dates back to 2008 when I was still a young man with bright sparkling eyes set to gaze towards the bright future. I can still remember, it was during biochemistry lab session when the assistants announced the topic of the week: protein electrophoresis. Despite my clear memories of said event none hit me the harder than when the assistants laid down several (read: many) basic ground rules on SDS-PAGE. For one, the main component of the gel, acrylamide, is dangerous in its monomer. Second, it’s not just dangerous but EXTREMELY DANGEROUS complete with exclamation marks. Because of that we need to dispose everything that come in contact with the sonuvabitch. Third, it is time consuming. Fourth, the sample loading can be a massive anal pain for beginners. Fifth, opening the plates and taking out the gel without runing the bad boys themselves take a certain talent that can only be done by those who have reached universal truth. I know at this point, some of scientists from rich research institutions who are reading this article instead of preparing themselves for journal clubs will exclaim loudly (yes, we scientists are hardcore like that): But you plebeian can use the pre-cast gel instead! Okay, here’s my answer: I hate you and pre-cast gels are expensive for private research institution in a country that is still bewildered with the word ‘biotechnology’. Oh, and I hope your presentation in that journal club is ruined for using pre-cast gels. Back to my story, my first encounters didn’t run very smoothly. The assistants mixed up some little details and we ended up working on zymography electrophoresis. But one thing makes me smile that day: I wasn’t the one working on the method. One of my jock-nerd teammate was to handle it. At that time I can only laugh in my little scientist heart and announce figuratively that the same shit will never happen to me.
Fast forward a year later and I found myself in the shoes of the biochemistry lab assistants. At that time I realized two inconvenient truths: it doesn’t feel good wearing somebody else shoes and sooner or later I will have to face SDS-PAGE again. And it doesn’t take long for hell to set loose. In my training period, I accidentally broke a pair of plate glasses for setting the gel comb in the opposite direction. I should’ve known at that time that the SDS-PAGE god is not smiling upon me but a man does not live by convenience alone but by the progress in SCIENCE. So I man the fuck up and move forward. Soon I realized manning up was a wrong decision because the same god seems to also hate mankind. During class session, the TEMED we used to catalyze the gel freezing process seemed to already passed its expiration date. But it’s not a common human error because when we checked the info written on the container, the expiration date was still four months away. My heart shrunk and despite what some scientists might tell you, we know we are under the cruel mercy of one common god named Murphy’s law. Yet, after that class I once again foolishly laughed at myself and swearing it will never happen again.
No, this story won’t end in just three paragraphs. Now fast forward two years from then and I was facing the final boss of my university life, final thesis project. Without difficulties, I chose my supervisor, got accepted, formed a team, received the research proposal and… Lo and behold! SDS-PAGE! The most humane response I can give out was only to smile and laugh. For six months I was struggling with SDS-PAGE… well it was technically not SDS-PAGE but her just-as-horrible sister named zymogram but you get the idea. Stuffs happened. Hairs were pulled out. The innocent children cried. Nations accursed the sky to the cruel deities out there. Land became barren and my list of metaphoric hyperbole went on. At one time, I had to made four gels (quite many for the newb me back then) and it turned out one there was a leak in one of the plate and RAGE ensued. There was also time when I had made a pair of nice gels only to have one slipped from my hand and got broken into pieces on the floor. Double RAGE ensued. Another painful experience was when I managed to get a glimpse of a result but fate decided to go ‘lol no’ on me and the gel got crushed under the elbow of one of my teammates. But what made me go to UNLIMITED RAGE WORKS was when we realized that we had the ratio of the sample and loading dye switched one with another. Add the fact that the other team discovered their result earlier than my team really plunged me deep into the abyss of despair where only wails and gnashing of teeth can be heard. But in the end praise SCIENCE I managed to walked away unharmed from the helter skelter that is my thesis project. To this day I imagined the event as me walking from an explosion being badass and all and not looking at the massive fireballs behind me.
After my final test, I went to Thailand to participate in a three-month internship at the country’s renowned biotechnology research center. It was like a vacation to me. After all the mess I went through I found myself working on an easier project (it was a molecular research) under the supervision of a lenient chill awesome dude. Went to work at 8AM and home at 3 PM, such was life in Thailand. It was a paradise that tastes like tom yam and pad thai in other words, perfect. Of course I had to realize every happiness comes with a price. Halfway through the research and my prof told me the next step involved, you guessed it, SDS-PAGE. But the me in Thailand is a man who’d seen the flames of war. He had gone to hell and back as an empty shell of a man. We call that kind of man as… a scientist! Just as before, my response was to smile but not a bitter and pathetic smile yet the smile of a warrior who had once again found his nemesis in his boring perfect life. In Thailand I made my record of working on EIGHT different gels in one day. I had transcended from a common human being into some kind of SDS-PAGE APOTHEOSIS! In fact I found myself gazing at the awe of my supervisor, my teammate, and my supervisor’s students with my flawless handling and perfect SDS-PAGEmanship. He then trusted me to teach them how to control the beast. How to subdue and defeat the demon with the perfection of a greek artisan. Yet, I know no matter how high I became, above the sky is the vastness of space however my enemy back then was not the SDS-PAGE herself yet a fellow scientist in my lab. I would like to call her the embodiment of inconveniences because of her behavior. She set complete set of plates filled with water to trick us into thinking that she had made her gels while in the end she appeared in the lab much much later in the day and to our horror poured the water out and started her work. But I’m a man of honor. No matter how impish, despicable, and rage-inducing the person was, I could only swallowed my defeat like a cheap Thai whore and prepared the next fight like a honorable Thaiboxing warrior. In other words, I reported her to my supervisor. In the end of my internship, I received a new view of SDS-PAGE. We’re no longer enemies, we’re now bound by professional and gentleman code of conduct where I’m a man of science and it is a protein separation method.
When I started my present job, I was not surprised by the time I had to face SDS-PAGE once again. I realized SDS-PAGE god is not a cruel malevolent god yet a clingy, slightly annoying yet sweet, female high school student god who’s always waiting for me to once again play with her.
There was a time when I had to visit my university to use their lab apparatus. As I was minding my own business, I saw my juniors were struggling with SDS-PAGE. She was engulfed in RAGE and desperation as her gel ruined. I only smiled from the distant and said calmly to her (this event was fabricated for dramatization) ‘Enjoy the time, kiddo. There will be the time when all this passed and you get lonely without all the thrill and tension’. Afterwards wind blew and I walked to the far sunset looking all cool and badass in my lab coat.
That, boys and girls, the story of a man’s struggle, desperation, acceptance, and camaraderie with such a gentle and gallant technique that belongs in the vastness of wilderness, SDS-PAGE.