Tag Archives: squishy cow


Remember Squishy Cow, she of Open Lab 2010 fame?
Squishy Cow has been slowly getting used to living in England. She has even made a new friend!
At the annual British Society for Developmental Biology meeting in April, someone was telling me about the freebies she got at the stands, concluding “….and I even got a squishy cow, but they’re hiding them behind the stand.”
What! Squishy cow! Where?!

It turns out that using squishy cows to market fetal bovine serum is not unique to Gibco’s “Buy Canadian FBS!” campaign, where I got Squishy a few years ago.
PAA (“The Cell Culture Company”) uses squishy cows to sell “FBS Gold. Defined Foetal Bovine Serum” (note the alternate spelling – this cow is British!)
I now have not one, but TWO squishy cows selling their babies’ blood. It’s a trend!
Any name suggestions for the new cow?

Squishy’s slow ascent to fame

“Squishy! Squishy Cow!”
“Zzzz…WHAT? What’s going on? Where’s all the furniture?”

minimal furniture, yesterday
“We’re moving… How long were you asleep?”
“I was hibernating. It’s cold outside.”

Cold outside, last week
“Look, squishy, you’re famous on the internet!”
“What’s this then?”
“Your post was runner-up for best Nature Network blog post of 2009.”

“I’m special!”
“You’re even more special, because you’re also going to be in a book .”

“Yay! I read a book once, but it wasn’t about me.”
“This one is not entirely about you either. There are 49 other blog posts in it, and none of them are about squishy cows.”
“Any other kind of cows maybe?”
“No. But there are entries about lots of other kinds of animals, and also another one about animal research, so you’ll feel right at home.”
“Good. Because I don’t really feel at home here after what you did with the place. Everything is in boxes or gone altogether…”

Yes we could!

Thanks guys!
I had enough people vote for Squishy Cow to make it to the semi-finals of the Quarks .
The other Nature Network blog that made this round is The Primate Diaries , and NN-er Christie got in twice with Observations of a Nerd . I’d like to think that it’s because we’re awesome, but in reality this was a popularity contest and a matter of who remembered to ask their readers to vote.
We’re in the judging round now, so it’s no longer a matter of who can best convince their friends to click on a voting form. Good thing too, because I don’t think I can pull this off again! I love my friends, but their online attention spans are very short. That’s not offensive – it’s kind of admirable how they manage to stay away fr— Ooooh, a shiny website!!
[Two hours of web-surfing later]
Anyway, despite my qualms about things for which you need many friends (of the web-clicking kind), and how unfair they are (the popularity contest, not the friends), I do really like the variety in the final set of semi-finalists. There are submissions from almost every field, and a couple of more general science ones. Some are very serious, some are funny. It’s too bad the list isn’t linked, because (Update – it’s linked now!) this is a cool set of posts to read, I think. The next round is announced later this week, but I’m happy just to be in that company.
Update: I didn’t make it to the finals, but Christie and Eric did! Congratulations!

Yes we can…?

What a horrible selfish thing to break a blog break for, but I wanted to let you know, (in a winking, insinuating manner) that two of my blog posts are up for voting at the 3quarksdaily science blog awards this week. There are a gazillion blog posts (give or take) but only the top 20 of the popular vote will go on to the next round.
My blog title is listed as “Nature Network” in the poll, but I’ve asked for it to be changed, so you can find my posts either under the letter N or E.
A Squishy Topic (with Squishy Cow!) and Last Saturday are the ones I submitted, because they are my favourites. I know they’re at least one other person’s favourite(s), because people-who-are-not-me have submitted both to Open Lab on other occasions, so please re-show your support!
Back to catching up with my life now. My parents are visiting next week, to watch me be spoken to in Latin while I’m wearing black robes, but after they’re gone I’ll resume the blog.


I decided to collect some of my personal favourite blog posts on this blog and put the list in my profile, but it’s probably easier to put them all in a blog post.
So if you have already read these classics (ahem), feel feel to just skip. The list is for the sole purpose of linking from my profile as a highlights section, sorted by topic.
Blogging and social networking
Distant Friends
How to get scientists to adopt web 2.0 technologies
Love, Actually
Social Networks: What Makes Them Work?
Leaving the lab
To Science!
Last Saturday
Intro to Failure
The culture of science, science in culture
Mr. Darwin, You Make Me Blush
A Squishy Topic
I dream of Jenny
Manipulating Nature
Alice’s Adventure’s in Animal Experimentation

ScienceOnline09 – Day 1

A proper update! (As opposed to the very improper audio posted earlier…)
The weeks leading up to my trip to ScienceOnline09 were a little crazy. I just started a new job, and also just found the source(s) of a long lingering clothes moth infestation in my apartment. As a result, I had been cleaning and washing every single night and did a final load of LOTS of clothes on Thursday night, including the clothes I was bringing along on my trip. Had I lived just three blocks further to the west, this would have been a terrifying disaster , because just around the time all of my clothes were in the washer, the electricity went out in a BIG part of the city, starting mere blocks away. I found out about the blackout over Twitter , in between vacuuming and washing and packing, and could see darkness from my balcony. I didn’t look too closely, though, because it was also -30 outside (Celsius, but that’s -22 Fahrenheit, so it’s not like it sounds any warmer…)
Luckily, my electricity was on all night, which was good, as I was up all night. I finally finished cleaning at 1 AM, and four hours later found myself running on the frozen snow of the Spadina sidewalk, with my suitcase slipping-rolling over the bumpy ice behind me, to just catch the night bus. The bus takes about 40 minutes from my house to the end of the subway line, and at least 25 minutes of this we drove through complete darkness in the blackout zone.
I made my flight with time to spare, and waited in the comfortable not-cold-at-all weather of North Carolina for the shuttle bus to the Radisson. Soon I was joined at the bus stop by Miriam While we were waiting, we were painfully aware that mere miles away other science bloggers were at the Coffee Cupping session. Mmm, coffee…. But the Radisosn bus driver was awesome, and after he told us that he would take us anywhere we wanted to go, we asked him to forget about the hotel and just drive us straight to the coffee place. Priorities! Frank, the driver, did take our suitcases to the hotel, but not after I had rescued Squishy Cow from mine. Priorities! Sadly, the coffee tasting was over by the time we got there, but we did find lots of people! Priorities? No, it sucked that there was no more coffee to be had. While waiting for the shuttle bus back, I did learn something interesting: Henry used to live near where the Winnie-the-Pooh books were set, and he has gone on an Expotition to the North Pole !
Back at the hotel, there was just enough time for lunch before we left on the lab tours. I went to BRITE, where I realized that I understood absolutely everything on the tour, gathered from all three programs I’ve received graduate degrees from. Yay, over-education! I was that annoying person who asked lots of questions. Poor tour guides. Granted, one of my questions was Can my cow take a picture with your penguin? but overall I was asking Intelligent Things about replicate samples and what kind of machine they use for their high content analysis and the quality of the protein structures used as templates. Then I went home and designed my own drugs and cured cancer. No, wait, I am mistaken. Then we went to a restaurant and cured cancer. I mean: ate food. And then was the Friday Fermentable wine tasting, which I liveblogged . Here are Janet’s notes , by the way, which I mentioned in that post. See how much more organized they are?
Directly after the wine tasting was the women’s networking event where you had to socialize, but I didn’t really. Or at least not by their rules. I did enjoy the lecture that evening by Rebecca Skloot , about Henrietta Lacks. It was very meta, actually, about how she learned and wrote about Henrietta Lacks. I had never considered what HeLa’s relatives thought about her immortal cell line, but it was all very interesting. The book should be out in a year or so, and it sounds like a good read.
After that, I got a ride back to the hotel, and met up with lots of Nature Network bloggers in the bar! We probably had lots of interesting conversations, if only we could have heard each other over the sound of the ocean bloggers singing sea shanties at the next table. Later, Michael told me that he overheard the hotel barman say “Those science bloggers sure know how to drink!” at a later, quieter moment.
Day 2 and 3 to follow!

A Squishy Topic

Every summer, the cabal of Toronto lab equipment suppliers holds a two day event called Labfest. Members of downtown research labs emerge from their respective institutions, and, blinking in the daylight, make their way to a local hotel-turned-student-residence to attend the ritual.
Everyone loves going to Labfest – not for the sales pitches, and not even just for the lab-endorsed escape from work, but for the freebies. This past year everyone got quite a decent sports bag instead of the usual conference tote. That same fest, the (too) young sales rep who had a crush on me waved at me from across the crowded floor so he could give me some limited edition candy from his company, and a friendly older lady rep from another company, who leaned in too close and kept touching my arm, gave me not one but two pens shaped like blood-filled syringes. But the best toy I ever received at Labfest was Squishy Cow, handed out a few years earlier by a guy dressed in a cow suit:

Squishy Cow is friendly and squishy, and traveled with me one year. Here she is enjoying a London summer, all six hours of it:

Squishy Cow may look harmless, but actually she is quite creepy. She is selling her own baby’s blood :

“Buy Canadian FBS!” commands Squishy Cow.
FBS, short for fetal bovine serum, is, as the name suggests, made from the blood of cow fetuses. I love the marketing person who came up with the idea to use squishy cows to sell this. Hilarious! But, on a more serious note, it’s also a good reminder of where reagents come from.

Squishy Cow and a sheep are having a serious talk about reagents
I feel guilty about things like FBS or antibodies – lab reagents for which animals have been killed. Even though we tell ourselves that our molecular biology research is done without animals, it’s not really – there just aren’t any animals in the lab . But there is no other available source for antibodies than animals, and even if there was a way to use synthetic serum in cell culture, it would probably be unaffordable. It’s not the same as using alternative sources of protein in your diet – those are just as easy to get as meat. It’s more like leather shoes: I’ve tried leather-free alternatives, and they were just not as good as leather shoes in the same price range, so I’m back to leather, and just try to take good care of my shoes so they last as long as possible.

Speaking of things that last: here is Squishy Cow at the Olympic Flame in Lausanne
The only real alternative to using reagents from animals is to not do experiments at all, but it’s precisely these kinds of reagents that are needed in drug development and in non-animal drug tests. Without this work, drugs would go straight from the chemistry lab to animal injection or clinical trial without any testing for functionality. Eep! That’s exactly what cell culture work is good for, so we waste fewer animals. One argument against cell culture and animal research in general is that often animal systems don’t accurately represent how a drug works in humans. True, there could be side effects in humans that are not seen in mice, but if we don’t test in cells and animals first, there’s no way to even preselect the things that have the highest chance of working. Clinical drug trials would be like Russian Roulette with devastating odds, and nobody would consent to them, no matter how desperate they are. Of course computer models are getting much better at predicting function, but at some point everything needs to be tested in the real world, like it or not.

Squishy Cow in the real world, visiting the Lorelei. (Find her!)
And drug development is only an example of what cell culture is good for. I’ve been using it to figure out basic pathways involved in skin pigmentation, and other people are using it to find out how neurons work, or why cancer and other diseases occur to begin with. None of which would be possible without FBS or antibodies – in other words, without sacrificing animals. But it helps to be aware of where these materials come from, so we don’t use too many, and sometimes a squishy cow needs to remind us of that.

Squishy Cow would also like to remind you all not to binge on German microbrew