Scene from a local post office

Backstory:  Innocent Junior Lab Member has been asked by Advisor to please send requested plasmids to Australia.  Advisor would do it but he is leaving town to go to the middle of nowhere Michigan where there is no internet so don’t email him.  Innocent Junior Lab Member prepares two plates of bacteria per Advisor’s instructions and prepares Quarantine Documentation the Australian Government now requires for biological samples.  Quarentine Documentation requires Official Departmental Letterhead which will not be relinquished to a mere graduate student without the Department Chairman’s permission.  Innocent Junior Lab Member receives permission from rather confused Department Chairman who says she could use as much letterhead as she liked and why the hell was she asking anyway?  Quarantine Documentation is put in an envelope and attached to a padded envelope (procured from the Advisor’s Office on the instructions of the Advisor and with the help of Jaded Senior Graduate Student who has no qualms about rummaging through Advisor’s cabinets and drawers) as per Australian Government specifications.  Innocent Junior Lab Member set off to the post office next door, fills out the customs declaration and steps up to the counter.

Post-woman 1:  You can’t have two envelopes taped together like that.

Innocent Junior Lab Member:  But, I need to have these documents in a separate envelope attached to the first envelope.

PW1:  But, there are gaps in between the two envelopes.  It’ll get caught up in the machinery.

IJLM:  Well, can’t you hand cancel it?

PW2:  You have to tape all of the edges so that nothing will catch.  You’ll either have to leave or buy some tape here to do it.

IJLM obediently buys the tape and tapes the whole thing except for the top of the envelope containing the Quarantine Documents and goes back to the counter.

PW1:  You’ll have to tape that top part, too.

IJLM:  I can’t tape the top part.  The Australian postal service says I have to leave that open so they can get the documents out.

PW1:  Look, the Australian postal service has their rules and we have ours and you can’t send it without the top of the envelope being taped.  Looks at customs declaration.  What’s in here anyway?  What’s a plasmid?

IJLM:  It’s DNA.

PW1:  DNA?  What?!  You mean like a virus????!!!

PW2 and PW3 look over in horror.

IJLM:  No, it’s not a virus, it’s bacteria.

Mayhem ensues.  PW1, PW2, PW3 are all now shouting.   IJLM starts backing toward the door.

PW1:  We have to call our supervisor!  You can’t just send this through the mail!

IJLM:  Well!  Okay, thank you for your help, I’ll just be going now!

PW2:  No!  You can’t leave!  Come back here!

IJLM makes a break for the door, goes back up to the lab and tells story to Jaded Senior Graduate Student who shakes her head, “Thank God you didn’t tell them it was E. coli.”  JSGS then suggests IJLM just leave it for Advisor to sort out when he gets back from the boonies.

That was yesterday.  Today, IJLM got a secretary from the office to weigh the envelope(s) and put postage on it and the offending package is being dropped in a mailbox (customs form attached) in a different part of town.  What are the odds that it will actually make it to Australia?  I’m thinking they’re not that good.  I seriously doubt you can just put an envelope with a customs declaration attached to it and “Quarantine Documents on the Reverse” written on it in a mailbox and expect it to get delivered.  Hopefully, the post office won’t freak out too badly.  It’ll be really hard for me to graduate if the lab is shut down due to wanton shipment of plates of harmless bacteria through the mail.


4 thoughts on “Scene from a local post office

  1. Er, on plates? We never send plates through the mail for this very reason! Usually plasmid-in-a-tube (in TE); it’s pretty stable. Or we scrape up a bunch of bacteria onto a piece of filter paper, let it air-dry, and then wrap it in foil and send that. You just drip some water on it and stick it on a selection plate when it gets there; voila, happy bacteria. Then on the customs form you write ‘harmless reagents for scientific research’. You can do yeast that way too.

    Plus… I’m imagining there’ll be a lot of satellites on the plate by the time it gets to Australia…

  2. Yes, this is what I thought, too. Usually Advisor sends plasmids out because it lets him be in the lab at a bench for a few minutes like he’s a real scientist. Apparently, this is the way he does it and so he instructed IJLM to do it this way, too. Personally, I would’ve sent a tube of plasmid to them, I mean, it’s for yeast, so they’ll have to prep the DNA from the bacteria to begin with. I had only recently heard of the filter paper method and that seems to be the best idea. Then, you just stick it in a regular envelope and send it on its merry way.

  3. This almost made tea come out my nose.

    I had to smuggle 1.5 ml tubes of various plasmids to Germany in my jeans pocket once. I didn’t want to check them, and my boss didn’t want to do the paperwork to send them.

    I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do if I were searched.

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