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Lab Rats

Lab Rats: Scene II

A six-part play from the LabLit fiction series

Robin Plevin 3 February 2008

www.lablit.com/article/348

I certainly would reject this paper immediately...our names aren’t on it!

Editor’s note: We are pleased to present the second episode of a six-part lab play by Professor Robin Plevin about the sins and secrets of a group of university researchers in Scotland.

Scene II. Materials & Methods

(Mike Waterman’s office three months later. Mike is on the phone in an annex to the laboratory, visible due to its glass wall.)

Mike: Hello, could I speak to professor Rob Mitchel, please? It’s Michael Waterman. Rob? Rob, it’s Michael, hi, how are you? Things are fine, I just got another research grant. Oh, Carol? Yes, she’s recovering okay…the baby’s fine. He’s called Mark, after Carol’s father. No, no I wasn’t at the birth, I had a meeting in California. I know, but she said I should go and it was a very important meeting. I met David Chamberland, the Nobel prize winner and…Oh no, her mother was there… she had been up for a fortnight preparing. No, I don’t think we’ll be having another, not if she has her way. Anyway, what I was on the phone for was some information. I was wondering how long you incubate your cells with those anticancer drugs. Twenty-four hours? Isn’t that a bit on the long side?…Oh right, I see, that’s very interesting. When did you work that out? Don’t worry, yes I know it’s in confidence. Thanks Bob, I must dash, I’ve got a lecture in five minutes…Yes, I will, bye now bye. (Puts the phone down and pauses). Sandra!

(Sandra puts down her new pipette and comes in)

Sandra:Yes, Mike?

Mike: I’ve got an idea – why don’t you treat the cells for 24 hours with the anticancer compounds and see what happens?

Sandra: There’s a problem, Mike: the cells are contaminated with fungus, I was going to throw them out.

Mike: No, No, there’s no need to do that. Just give them a wash and they’ll be all right.

Sandra: Won’t that affect the experiment?

Mike: No, it will be fine.

Sandra: (looking somewhat bemused) Okay, Mike.

(Sandra exits, James comes in)

Mike: Oh, I didn’t see you there. Come in, come in…. move the rubbish. Sorry about the mess, I’m just inundated with things at the moment…grants, unfinished papers. You know how it is…

James: Not really.

Mike: Well, you will when you run your own research group. I didn’t see you this morning in the lab; were you late getting in?

James: Didn’t the others tell you? I was working all night so I went home to get some shut-eye.

Mike: No, they didn’t. Anyway, while you were sleeping this came through the post.

James: (Looking at the title and abstract) Oh Jesus! (Gives a wry smile and starts reading the manuscript.)

Mike: Yes, indeed.

James: (reading and not really listening). Oh, so that’s how they did the last part…that’s quite neat. I don’t know if I’d have thought of that…well at least not immediately. Apart from that my method looks exactly the same.

Mike: So you’ve nearly got to the same point as them?

James: Apart from this last bit. I’ve only been at it three months.

Mike: Well, given revision and editorial delays this paper may not have to come out for at least six months to a year. We have a chance.

James: A chance? Of what?

Mike: To get our paper together and get it published.

James: In where?

Mike: Nature, of course.

James: Wait, let me get this straight. This paper may get delayed, or rejected, or even lost in the in-tray. For at least six months. Meanwhile, I repeat the experiments and we put out the same work in the same journal?

Mike: Of course. It’s accepted practice, you have made exactly the same discovery in the same time-frame. A journal like Nature would obviously see that and present both pieces of work simultaneously. It’s happened countless times before…Howard Temin, David Baltimore…

James: This is hardly a simultaneous discovery. For a start I may not have worked out what they did for at least six months. The work in this paper would take another year to complete…at least. Then you would need to clone the protein for a start and then do the functional expression…

Mike: James, I think you are being somewhat naïve. This is what happens in laboratories all around the world. We’re not doing anything wrong, we’re just playing the same game as everyone else.

James: This is unethical!

Mike: We have to compete.

James: This isn’t competing, it’s stealing. Just admit we were beaten on this one. There are others areas we can work on.

Mike: You shouldn’t be making that decision: I run the laboratory.

James: It’s my work.

Mike: And I provide the resources.

James: I’m not being party to this.

Mike: (pauses) Very well then. Finish purifying the protein and we’ll put it in a journal with less prestige. But remember this is a vital time for you and you must make sure you are productive.

James: I know.

Mike: Right. Is there anything else we need to discuss?

James: Well, I wanted to show you some ideas that I had for some new projects.

Mike: (cautious) Oh?

James: Research projects for the lab. There were some things I was working on in the States which I think could be very fruitful. I also think they would help with the Japanese bid.

Mike:You feel that the Japanese bid needs help?

James: Well, it’s a bit…

Mike: Yes?

James: Uninspiring.

Mike: I see. My work has been called many things but not uninspiring.

James: I just thought looking at things from another angle might help.

Mike: Well, I’m a bit busy at the moment.

James: I’ve written them down (hands over a folder).

Mike: Thank you, I’ll read them when I have some spare time.

James: Okay (gets up to leave). If you use them for the bid I’ll get acknowledged?

Mike: Yes, of course, don’t worry about that. Oh, before you go, remember the advertisement will be out soon. For the lectureship. You might think of applying, I… the department, is looking for new blood from outside, a new angle so to speak. I think you would be a very strong candidate given your American background. I would be happy to support you.

James: Thank you, Mike. I did intend applying even though I haven’t been here for that long. (suspicious) I thought Simon or Noreen would be your preferred candidate?

Mike: Well, they are very good but well….new blood is important.

James: That would be good, I could start again.

Mike: Start again?

James: I nearly had a lectureship in the States but it fell through.

Mike: Why was that?

(The phone rings; he turns towards it, picks it up and waves James away. James starts to exit). And could you send Simon in…Yes, Mike Waterman. Oh, hello dear. I’ll be home early as I can…I promise…about sixish…I promise. Must dash dear, got a lecture in two minutes…bye bye.

(Puts the phone down, Simon comes in)

Simon, take a look at this paper. (Simon looks at the abstract and starts to read it) This is James’s protein. Now, what I want you to do is clone the gene for this as quickly as you can…they may not have filed a patent on it yet. And…I would be grateful if you didn’t mention it to James. He’s overly sensitive about someone treading on his toes, but we need to do this as quickly as we can.

Simon: I’m right on it. Well (still reading)…I certainly would reject this paper immediately

Mike: Why?

Simon: Our names aren’t on it! (Puts the paper down and leaves)

(Mike opens the folder, reads the notes that James left, then picks up the phone.)

Mike: Hi Rob, Mike here again. A quick call. Two things. We need to get a paper published in Nature. Yes, quickly. I have the rival paper sitting on my desk. About two to three months. Yes, we can submit them together, that’s exactly what I thought. Excellent. The other thing is that I have some new ideas for my Japanese bid: could you have look at them and tell me what you think? Yes, I was in an inspirational mood this afternoon. Okay, I’ll e-mail them to you. Thanks, bye.

(Sits back and re-reads James’ notes; lights fade to end of scene)

[Continued next week]