The Elves and the Bio Major

by Rob Valet | 2/21/01 6:00am

Dear God, please send the magical elves to set up my PCR reactions!

Let me back up. I have been thinking a lot about children's stories lately (I think this is some sort of senior year regression I am suffering). In particular, I keep remembering one that my mom used to read to my sister and me many a happy childhood night, called "The Elves and the Shoemaker."

The story is about a kindly old shoemaker who has fallen on hard times, and eventually he only has enough leather left to make one last pair of shoes. That night, he somberly lays out the materials he will need in order to make that last pair in the morning, and then he goes to bed.

At this point, for reasons still unclear to me, a little horde of magical elves descends upon the cobbler's shop, and works all night to make a beautiful pair of shoes for the kindly old shoemaker. The shoes are of such quality that, in the morning, the surprised shoemaker is able to sell them for enough money to buy materials for two pairs of shoes.

The next night, the elves return and make two beautiful pairs of shoes, which the shoemaker sells to buy leather for four pairs. They continue on in this fashion until the shoemaker owns a couple of factories full of underpaid South Korean elves who make all the shoes, while he spends his days power-lunching with Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, to try to get them to wear the trade-marked swoosh that all the elves sew onto the shoes. Mom might have made that last part up.

Also, I am still unclear as to why the elves are naked for most of the story, until finally the shoemaker's wife knits them little elf pants in order to repay them for their kindness. It seems to me that the elves could have just taken the shoemaker's leather and made themselves some sexy little elf leather pants directly, cutting out the middleman. I'll have to ask mom about this at some point.

In the meantime, I have fallen on rather hard times in my bio thesis work. I am trying to clone some plant genes via PCR (to keep things simple so that I don't lose any of you psych majors, suffice it to say that PCR is a way to make lots of copies of a piece of DNA of interest). To make the copies, though, you need some originals--and the genomic DNA samples from the plant lines that I am working with are almost gone. If they run out I will need to wait two months to grow more plants--which for my thesis is just about too late.

Thus, like the shoemaker I have laid out the materials for my one last try. All the DNA samples and reagents are tucked snugly away in the freezer, and all the pipettors and such are sitting on my bench. I will go set everything up one of these days--but in the meantime, I am kind of hoping that late one night, a little troupe of elves will sneak into lab. I can see them standing on top of each other's shoulders to reach the freezer door handle, and then working together to use the pipettors and open the tubes and everything.

The next morning I will go into lab and find beautiful PCR samples waiting for me. They will be of such fantastic quality that I will be able to sell them and buy materials for twice as many samples, and ... actually no one would pay me for them. Just having them done well for my own information would be good enough.

So here's to hoping that one of these nights, the elves will make the trek to Gilman to save a kindly bio major's thesis. Hopefully they won't expect any little elf pants in return or I shall have to learn to knit.