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Reading sample


A journey through sex, drugs & excommunism

Molecular biological laboratory in Sydney: Glass incubator with agar plates, centrifuges, glass devices, gel electrophoresis, chemical bottles, computer. Young scientist from Germany (East) enters and turns to the audience.

You see, this is what a modern laboratory looks like. No matter where you go: In the basement of the Berlin Natural History Museum, in the Life Science Building of the University of California at Berkeley, in a small barrack on Hawaii's Coconut Island or here in a research hospital in Sydney. See everything freshly set up with a gigantic grant from the NIH, everything brand new - no devices from the 50s, no, even the Eppendorf centrifuge in Porsche design. Bright blue - a splash of color between white hygiene.

Laughs maliciously. Throws on a white coat, puts on rubber gloves. Turns to the incubator, which is filled with various petri dish cultures. Finds specific petri dishes.

Hygiene. No Everything is extremely dangerous. The incubator has a body temperature of 37 ° C, which is where they grow best. Here, take a look, just two days old and the caramel-like slime is already dripping from the lid, which is coated with nutrient medium. If you'd rather not eat for dessert, that's Cryptococcus neoformans. A yeast-like mushroom, isolate from pigeon shit. Wait, what does it say? NT27. Yes, of course, the 27th pigeon droppings sample from the Newtown train station. Ha, Newtown! Second largest gay center in Sydney, many positives - an opportunistic infection with Cryptococcus is often the end then. Just look at this culture here: McBride-CSF, isolate from Mister McBride's brain water - a deceased AIDS patient from our hospital. Cryptococcus drives them all crazy - meningitis and mouse dead after a few months. Well, we're researching it. How we do this?

Doctor Faust, the scientist par excellence, ponders and says: "In the beginning was the deed?" But no, in the beginning there was the idea, dear Faust. The idea is the whole point. You only need to check the hypothesis twice and then there is a fine paper - an article in some hopefully recognized scientific journal. Ideally in Nature or Science, but they are also corrupt, so you have to have the right relationships. Doing research on your own is no longer an option. Faust has beaten his soul and is sizzling in purgatory. A Faust has no chance today (at most he would have money, inexhaustible financial resources that gave him total independence). No, no - teamwork with a constant smile on your face and a meat market with a tie and collar are popular, the more conservative the better. And what all the theater for? For the largest, the highest achievable: Your own laboratory, with Porsche design, as I said. Work should also be fun. After all, you sit here all day, until eight or ten in the evening. Or turn on a device at the weekend and switch it off after six or ten hours. All very time consuming. You're nailed down there. The modern scientist can only be happy when he loses his chains - catapulted himself from the laboratory into the free economy.

I know a lot of colleagues who take a few years off and do a little modeling. He, the scientist, has to be free, on the ball: surfing the globe, and take part in everything: better animal experiments in the high-security wing, better AIDS research on blacks in Uganda, better exploding atomic bombs in the South Pacific, dirt (even if it is under the cloak of Science) better to drag behind the national border: out of sight, out of mind, better still, let it fall to the ocean floor; Well, that's probably the least of the bother. Think about the disposal of the oil platform in the North Atlantic, what a theater it was, and the cheapest option, sinking it onto the seabed, would probably have been the most environmentally friendly. But politics, propaganda, science is not immune to it either. Even Green Peace is not always properly informed.

Sniffs to himself.

What am I working on? So, the idea is: An infection occurs when the pathogen, when it penetrates the host, switches on a certain gene from its gene pool, which is responsible for overcoming Otto or Gabi's immune barrier.

Cryptococcus is a single cell. Pigeon droppings, as I said, weathered, blown by the wind and finally inhaled. Inhaled the still living Cryptococcus cells - from the finely atomized bird shit.

Wonderful places for inhalation are the Piazza San Marco or Kraków's Rynek Glowny, with its cloth hall in the middle, the Mecca of the Renaissance: Florence, the main gate of the Milan Cathedral or Notre-Dame, wherever you want. Then you can only worship the worm-eaten Jesus from the 16th century at the Veit-Stoss-Altar. And for non-Catholics here in Australia there is a variant of Cryptococcus that grows on eucalyptus and other trees. Well, what do you want, the white man lives barely 200 years here - nothing with renaissance only convicts, military and maybe a bit of colonial nobility. Nothing has been heard here from the legendary courtiers of a medieval ruler of Kraków, cursed to be deaf. On the Rynek Glowny, the fat flower woman with a Slavic headscarf and seven petticoats lets a flock of pigeons push her off her stool in awe.

Where was I? - Overcome the immune barrier. As a rule, it doesn't matter if we inhale such germs; Our respiratory system is well equipped for gas exchange, but on the other hand it is totally set up for particle defense and filtering. The airways are lined with filaments that transport the smallest particles out again. Always according to the sputum motto: collect slime and spit off.

However, even when surrounded by a thick polysaccharide capsule, the Cryptococcus cells break through this first barrier. Having penetrated the alveolus, a gene is now activated that synthesizes an enzyme and in turn, for example, paralyzes the phagocytosis of a weakened immune system. Phagocytosis, you ask? Well, a monocyte arrives, turns the pathogen inside out, absorbs it and now digests it calmly, or at least makes it harmless. You see, and this is how the working idea would go on: If you could now switch off this gene, even a weakened defense would still run its normal course and an infection would be forfeited. When we have finished researching everything here in the gene laboratory, pharmacy has to come up with a pill that switched off exactly this gene that we identified, making it ineffective.

Lights up bunsen burners.

Working clean is the most important thing. The air is full of germs, germs naturally have their own genes - contamination with foreign genetic material is very easy. Here, the Bunsen burner makes thermals, all light particles are torn up with the rising air, some burned away from the workplace. If I now open the Petri dish close to the flame, no foreign germ can fall on it, all loose material will be blown up.

With an inoculation needle, he takes sufficient Cryptococcus culture from the Petri dish and transfers it to a mortar with liquid nitrogen. Steam rises from the bowl.

This is liquid nitrogen, it freezes everything in an instant. -196 ° C. Stops enzyme activity that breaks down genetic material, DNA or RNA, for example. We want to find genes. First step: tear open cells. Frozen you can now grind the Cryptococcus and dissolve its fine powder.

So that would be done. Vortex, filter, centrifuge. You see, this small plastic tube, a so-called Eppi, or correctly Eppendorf tube, contains a gel membrane insert that has pores and holds the genetic molecules in place. All other material goes through, is centrifuged out and - poured into the sink! Now I remove the RNA - because that's what we're talking about here - from the gel pores and after centrifuging again I have it in the potty.

Do what he says.

This centrifuge, round, striking - a mechanical marvel with erotic shapes. Ha, the advertising psychologists who know how to keep you in the lab. In general, shiny surfaces like a car body. Or have you ever seen a modern motorcycle, looking at a yogurt pot from above. Feminine forms through and through. The seat of the solo machine: a wasp waist and the huge tank, framed by the handlebars, creates an archway reflex - this round, like the rear view of a cow that lets every bull extend its tail. Riding is the term technicus. Well, getting on is bad on this little centrifuge, maybe it has other properties. Maybe she's a good vibrator?

But let's be serious, as a passionate motorcyclist I have to say something about time. Not what is obvious that you could get through the traffic jam faster, but something at the moment. There is no past and no future in motorcycling. Now is the fascinating factor. When speeding down the piste, the motorcyclist experiences immediately: the perception of a eucalyptus tree by its cloud of scent, which it exudes and which is cut through by the human machine at that moment. Unadulterated, and not laboriously sucked in by the air conditioning of a car, he experiences the ethereal magic of the nose.

How does the moment show up? The sun on my left knee, cold wind on the right. Rain pattering on the equipment or really mud whipped diagonally behind the double tires of a truck. Or just the purring of the machine on the edge of the field, on the edge of the forest, on the guardrail or broken on a wall - never the same purring - but always an intoxication that is incessant as long as you drive.

The high-speed roaring of the engine when it romps beyond the 200 km / h mark, the landscape leans over to the helmet visor and the driver clings his upper arms to the tank, the machine becomes one with the machine to keep the air resistance lower, yes keeps himself ecstatic in the now. An ecstatic rush has begun, the driver can only grasp the markings on the concrete runway, everything else is blurred - left and right. A tunnel has opened up into another world, a fantastic world free of the past and future and thus free of fears, because fear has its roots in the past and its direction in the future.

Take Eppis out of the centrifuge and put them in the fridge.

You have to be damn careful with the many small tubes. Always label properly immediately, once mixed up and not noticed, can in the worst case ruin a year's work - well, then you can wrap up. Forever! Basta! There is nothing worse than the competition in science. A car manufacturer advertises on television and everywhere, the latest model is already staring at you from the giant billboard on the roadside. We do not have this apparatus of power. I'll write a paper, then three reviewers will look through it, they may be in cahoots and put the first stick between my legs, oh what am I saying, stick? It can be a block of cement. And if I don't have an influential co-author, I can forget about the first 500 most important magazines anyway. Then there are a few gossip magazines that publish everything but earn me anything but reputation.

Take Erlenmeyer flask from shelf and soften agar in microwave.

Of course, there is another way - the age-old, brain stem-driven path that almost always works: A student has just tinkered with my boss, he's actually gay, but still AC-DC capable. Clear result: Ph.D. scholarship in your pocket! Or next floor, our big boss, an attractive lesbian - I really like her. Ha, who cares if your partner is the second most important position in the department. Actually, I should keep my mouth shut. But in the meantime even the internet has gotten a foothold: a colleague in LA, with a few computers in his office, had switched his most powerful one to permanent gay online. Just modern tune radio. Everything seems short-lived and you think you are constantly missing out on something. Nonsense with sauce, as Brecht says: "Everyone runs after happiness / happiness runs after ...".

Magpies twitter through the ajar window.

Do you hear? Five o'clock! It's winter in Sydney and these birdies are accurate twilight worshipers. Well, now it's dark, now I can go on working, I haven't got any more luck anyway. During the day it is warm, like in the middle of Berlin summer; but these long nights, these short days, you have to lose your nerve. Especially when you are still allowed to work ... But it is awesome when you step on your balcony in the evening, smoke a cigarette and suddenly a flying fox sails past - silently - down the Parramatta River. Not these little flippy noctule swifts from Germany. No! A mammal with real pterosaur qualities.


Mesozoic Era in the Holocene.

Winter in summer.

North to south.

Another world, indeed.

Pour agar into prepared electrophoresis tank.

I'm a biologist, after all, so while I'm pouring this gel, let me babble a little more about the outback. Wait a minute, the comb must be exactly vertical, ... no bubbles in it, ... everything is balanced. Sooo, done, just have to cool down and solidify, then I can load a few microliters of the sample and see whether the RNA extraction actually worked.

Put used Erlenmeyer flask in sink, rinse with water.

Outback, ... yes, ... although I am now walking around in the laboratory with my lab coat on, I have not yet forgotten the butterfly net and the botanizing drum from my undergraduate studies. Both had their wedding in the last century and are now completely out of fashion. Apart from a few museum freaks who haven't given up hunting and gathering yet. Or perhaps even more useful in the search for a forgotten jungle drug that made the insufficiencies of self-domestication more bearable. Be that as it may, close to nature - as the saying goes - I'm entitled to it. Australia was a well-considered professional destination, even if I only get two days off per month here. Fortunately, in my position from time to time I find myself in distress scraping a new Cryptococcus isolate from some outback tree. Outback what am I always raving about - tourist term, the Australians call it Bulamakanka and that is really JWD!

In any case, on Cape York, in the tropical rainforest - more bearable in winter, by the way - we met it. I had been waiting longingly for two weeks, but unfortunately in vain. A number of monitor lizards and bush turkeys had already fallen onto our tent. By then we had already fed hundreds of kangaroos, wallabies and possums, day and night. A fat roller skink had stuck out his noble blue tongue for us. We had already fled into a safe car from a snot-poisonous Taipan. And then? Then we finally left, but had to turn back because the ferry was damaged. One last forced night at Cape Kimberley - someone tell me that Voltair's providence is nothing more than lies and deceit!

At dawn.

Early departure.

Clouds of morning mist.

The mood is like in a Russian fairy tale: Masha and Dasha go to the forest to collect mushrooms. The mushrooms already reach the child's breast, suddenly the trees start to speak and Baba Jaga is not far anymore. - All of a sudden this human-sized bird enters this mood from the thicket on the right - slowly - but unstoppably - wades over the sand path and disappears into the thicket on the left.

A mirage? In front of our excursion car! - And yet every detail is visible for the moment. Much too dark for a photo! Thicket left and right - and low position of the sun in the morning - as I said - and of course only 100 film in the camera. Nevertheless: An indescribable primeval bird - armed with dangerous dinosaur paws on which lizard-leather covered, sturdy legs have grown.

Dinosaur claws - chunky and large - much too big for the animal. The plumage on top, like long shaggy hair - dark - almost black. The broad beak and the open ear give the bird's head something human! - From the long, shimmering blue neck, pairs of bright red sacks float into the fur-like plumage. Plus the incredible crowning glory: a shovel-shaped bone! Parting in the middle of the head. You would think with your head against the wall.

And indeed, the bone allows the escape into the thickening undergrowth of the rainforest. Only once before - still as a steppe - had I seen such a creature: dead and stuffed as a mouse in a glass showcase of a Polish naturalist who had long since lost his soul. The man must have carried the cassowary on a long passage from Cape York to Europe.

What an experience! Human-independent-nature-pure; ... past the daily struggle between the New World mentality of the Americans or Aussis and the reflective European heaviness. Europe's sun, moon and stars - overcast with depression and filled with history that was also humanity and enlightenment.

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