I first learnt the art of cell culture in the year of my master’s degree. My teacher very carefully showed me how to clean my workspace and take care of my cells so that they stayed happy and healthy. It was actually over a year before I managed to contaminate them with a bacterial infection but once that kind of thing has happens, the paranoia begins to set in.
How to write this blog without it looking like I have a disorder…?
There’s a mindset shift involved in being good at working aseptically. You have to have to learn to ‘see’ contamination; being aware of where it is, where it could come from and avoiding it coming into contact with your cells at all costs.
The trouble is, once you’ve made the shift it’s quite difficult to revert back to being ‘contamination ignorant’. When I’m cleaning the laminar flow hood for cell culture work I have a ‘clean hand’ that works inside the hood and a ‘dirty hand’ on the outside of the hood that braces me and keeps me steady (I’ve got little arms that can only just reach the back wall). I realised the other day that this system has followed me out of the tissue culture lab and into my every day life. When I’m dusting my flat, my right hand does all the work while my left flails around trying not to touch anything. I apply moisturiser with only my right hand because I’m subconsciously aware that my left might contaminate my face. It’s not just at home either, I cringe when I think of what might be living on the handrails of the bus or the bottom of my handbag when I’ve put in on the floor of the toilets.
As paranoid as I might seem, a bacterial or fungal infection in my cells is just about as devastating as cell culture can get and if the spilling over of germ phobia (or, more accurately, germ awareness) into my everyday life is the price I have to pay for happy cells then…so be it!