That was fun & disgusting

But I have to warn you: if I show strange symptoms, call the CDC.

I got to spend my morning as the designated safety officer for the biology discipline in cleaning out a refrigerator left behind by a departed faculty member. It mainly consisted of hundreds and hundreds of small vials with cryptic labels; I think these were all samples of exotic biological material collected from tropical jungles by an ethnobotanist. It was mostly harmless, consisting of a little culture medium with bits of plant material floating in it, which I dumped into a big flask and am now in the process of sterilizing in the autoclave.

But I got to thinking: what if I inhaled some tiny spore from a toenail fungus scraped from the claws of a giant Sumatran rat-thing, and I become patient zero in the deadly zombie outbreak of the upper Midwest? If I start exhibiting undead cannibal symptoms, you have permission to shoot me. In the head, of course.

Next I have to figure out what to do with the liter bottle labeled “buffer” that contains a brilliant orange-yellow gelatinous slime blob. I’m afraid to open it. I was considering taking a photo and presenting it to you, the internet audience, to puzzle it out, but I don’t know…it might be a yuck too far.

You want to see the mysterious blob? Video below, because a still picture just doesn’t capture its essence.


  1. says

    Next I have to figure out what to do with the liter bottle labeled “buffer” that contains a brilliant orange-yellow gelatinous slime blob. I’m afraid to open it. I was considering taking a photo and presenting it to you, the internet audience, to puzzle it out, but I don’t know…it might be a yuck too far.

    I’d like to see! Just remember, brilliant oranges and yellows are often a signifier of poison.

  2. cartomancer says

    Keep the yellow blob contained in case the zombie outbreak happens. When it does you can unleash it and have all kinds of B-movie sequel fun. Minnesota Zombies vs. the Vile Yellow Blob practically writes itself.

  3. phein39 says

    Safe-T-Kleen: Let them lab pack it and dispose of it. Yes, it will cost a little, but the option is unknowable. Your insurance probably doesn’t cover Zombification, not even Farmer’s Union.

    Don’t mess with it personally unless you know for sure what’s in it. I’ve inspected gov’t labs in Atlanta (think close to Emory) and elsewhere, and there were unbelievable items tucked away in drawers, personal lockers, cabinets of all kinds: Jars with specimens from the Japanese occupation of China, strange samples from the Congo that no one remembered how they got there, air filters from positive pressure labs stacked in a sealed off hallway.

    Researchers are terrible about hoarding samples and chemicals that should be destroyed or stored in locked cabinets, and world-renowned researchers are the worst.

  4. says

    That’s currently our planned solution. We have a small number of things, including that bottle, that we’re going to send away for disposal.

  5. brucej says

    When I first started working at my current institution, I was tasked with helping to loot clear the lab space of a retired faculty member. A fair amount of useful glassware and curiosities were found (a sealed can of Johnson and Johnson sterilized 5 ml syringes, with a key like that on a canned ham to open it !)

    Things went very well until we got to the chemical cabinet and found, among the more mundane things, the 3kg jar of Picric Acid…the one with sublimated crystals all up and down the side.

    We immediately called risk management…who ended up calling the bomb squad, who veeeeeery carefully took it away…

  6. Owlmirror says

    If I start exhibiting undead cannibal symptoms

    Would conversion to Catholicism be an example?

    “Yummy, yummy, body of resurrected Jesus! OM NOM NOM!”

  7. busterggi says

    What the blob is I don’t know but I’d bet its past its’ sell-by date.

  8. LanceR, JSG says

    I googled Picric Acid to make sure I completely understood that reference… and the third “Searches Related To” result was “picric acid homeopathy”.

    What does THAT cure? Living?

  9. says

    Oh, yeah, when I inherited an old lab at Temple University, it was a cluttered mess, and two things filled me with horror:

    1. As I cleaned out the debris in one room, I discovered a lake of mercury on the floor. It was literally everywhere.

    2. When I opened the chemical cabinet, there was a bottle (plastic, obviously) of hydrofluoric acid, covered in white crystals. You bet I called the safety department to clear it away.

  10. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin isn’t too concerned about the yellow slimey thingy, but she is very worried about the bottle. Whatever that bottle is made of, she points out, it changed a harmless something into a yellow slime.

    And poopyhead has clearly touched it…

    So has, it occurs to me, the cabinet / shelf / drawer / mysterious-vault-in-the-basement where it was found. Whoever gets that will be in for a surprise!

  11. blf says

    I discovered a lake of mercury on the floor. It was literally everywhere.

    Reminds me of my freshman chemistry lab — I walked in one day and found the safety team industriously disassembling a sink / drain, and using some sort of a specialist vacuum machine thingy. Apparently, someone in a previous session had spilled(? broken?) something containing mercury, and simply dumped the entire mess down the sink’s drain. The sink was only supposed to be used for washing hands and similar, certainly not for the disposal of harmful substances.


    Then, of course, there are the things which lurk in my home refrigerator — I can hear the munches and screams from here. (The mildly deranged penguin is not in lair at the moment, so I know it’s not her.)

  12. blf says

    A zombie outbreak might just be what we need right about now.

    There is already a surplus of them in teh Wacko House and as a majority in Congress — and you want more!?

  13. randall says

    Oooohhh, yeah!! Decades ago cleaned out a physics lab at university and came upon a wooden box of peculiar green rocks. Having some experience with nuclear stuff, I thought they looked familiar. Went looking for a survey meter (radiation, that is) and sure enough, low level radioactivity ( Cs-137 was about the only detectable nuclide). Yep, old trinitite, god only knows how that got there but it was close to the old Trinity site. Interesting experience….

  14. The Mellow Monkey says

    That mystery blob is truly beautiful, in a repulsive sort of way.

  15. randall says

    @12: We already have the zombie outbreak, we just haven’t labeled it as such. cf 2016 election.

  16. unclefrogy says

    I have because of the numerous examples I personally have come across become convinced humans have one true belief that appears universal.
    That belief is the religion of ” More room more stuff” everyone participates and the only difference is how they personally “room” and what constitutes the stuff of value that must be kept or at least can not be let go yet.
    When My son and I were clearing out my deceased mothers house he gave me the fish eye when he commented “yah I know” meaning he would have to clear out my “stuff” one day. I have of late been forced to go into areas of storage of my own and find things I had forgotten what it was or where it came from.
    I saw a TV detective show a while back where the case was solved by what a retired government accountant had kept absolutely everything never having through out anything he just put it in some appropriate container and labeled it with date and contents. I also watched a video the other day it was a tour of a guy’s who was maybe involved in repairing old electronic equipment and kept everything but the sheet metal else bagged and neatly labeled in hundreds of little drawers.
    I wonder PZ what amazing wondrous stuff you have in your storage.
    All hail the one true GOD
    “more room more space”!
    uncle frogy

  17. weylguy says

    Sounds to me that Dr. Myers is actually part of a bacteriological warfare terrorist cell in Minnesota, and he’s laying the groundwork here to blame his departed colleague on the forthcoming attack.

    I’m kidding, of course. But in these Trumpian times, infested with all manner of anti-science ideologues who can’t wait to imprison/kill progressive scientists, I should be more careful with my jokes.

  18. blf says

    I know what it is, school custard left over from the 1970s.

    Poopyhead found it at the centre of the Earth? That stuff is so foul that after aging / decomposing for a bit (about two minutes should do) it would dissolve everything…

    I suppose it might be government cheese, except that stuff needs around three minutes…

  19. johnson catman says

    Re mercury:
    In the eighth grade (1972-73), our physical science class had a storage room with bunches of chemicals, etc. There was a pint-sized plastic bottle of mercury. How wondrously heavy. It had a pull-up squirt top, so of course we squirted some on the lab tables and began playing with it (with bare hands no less). It was so fun! We did that on many days, and the science teacher never stopped us or advised against it. Later in the year, when we finally stopped playing with it, probably half of the mercury was gone. It had found its way on the floors and everywhere else. Imagine my shock when I got to my first chemistry lab at college performing an experiment on atmospheric pressure using mercury and a u-shaped tube. We were instructed that if ANY mercury spilled, we were to treat it as very hazardous material and report it immediately to the senior lab staff. I realized that every student in my junior high school had been exposed to the mercury either directly or indirectly. I have at times wondered how much mercury I and my fellow students absorbed back then.

  20. says

    TMM @ 16:

    That mystery blob is truly beautiful, in a repulsive sort of way.

    My first thought was peaches. Strange, mutant peaches. In scary lemon custard.

  21. unclefrogy says

    I apologize for the apparent missing word above. I would put them here but I am not sure what they were supposed to be any more or what my point was.
    more room more stuff!
    uncle frogy

  22. René says

    My (our) fun is your disgust. The source of all religion.

    Don’t you dare laugh.

  23. blf says

    unclefrogy, “more room more stuff!” — I think yer referring to the phenomenon “Junk expands to fill all space, available or not”.

    (I have no idea if I heard that but have no recollection of the source, or if I made it up myself.)

  24. says

    “. . . a brilliant orange-yellow gelatinous slime blob.” When I first read that, I thought it was a reference to the part-time Resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

  25. Dean Pentcheff says

    PZ, you would love working in a natural history museum. We run across… interesting… jars all the time (I work with marine invertebrates). Oh, and it’s not as though we have a safety department or safety officer — hazardous materials handling is strictly DIY.

  26. blf says

    I may have inadvertently discovered either the origin or a user / usage of the stuff. The nearby pub has live music tonight (I can hear it as I type this). I went to check the band and have a pint, which turned into a rather quick pint as the band isn’t anywheres as good as their tune-up session made them sound. (The pint was Ok, however.)

    Anyways, the leader singer’s shirt was exactly the same colour. I have no idea if he simply uses the stuff as a dye, or is the source of the stuff. Either way, if the music / band is any clew, the stuff, whilst perhaps not dangerous (other than to good taste, sanity, and artistic skills) is more awful than tolerable.

  27. komarov says

    That blob is clearly the perfectly preserved yolk of a dinosaur egg. This is your chance to one-up that chap with the squishy dinosaur bone. (Insert obligatory ‘egg on his face’-remark here.)

  28. chigau (違う) says

    What became of the “departed faculty member”?
    Couldn’t you just ask them?

  29. Rich Woods says

    Next I have to figure out what to do with the liter bottle labeled “buffer” that contains a brilliant orange-yellow gelatinous slime blob.

    Take off and nuke it from orbit.

  30. unclefrogy says

    BLF @ 28
    through experience with building and modifying storage systems and moving people it is “worse” than that
    I would need more data but so far it appears that your stuff will expand to equal 110-120% of the space available.
    it depends on how much you increase the space how long it takes for the floor and or horizontal surfaces to be again over whelmed by about 20% more stuff.
    it might be different with digital storage but I have been reluctant to look too closely and always ignore the pop ups telling me I can get more HD space by getting rid of files.
    uncle frogy

  31. Larry says

    May 26, 2037

    They’re coming. I’ve evaded them for so long but I can’t any longer. Some say they’re aliens from space. Others, travelers from the future. But I know their trues origin. It started in a small lab in a small university town in the state of Minasota in what was once the United States of Amerika. In a routine clean-up, a profesor at this university discovered a compound that he unwittingly unleashed upon the world. It dissolves the central neural systems, turning humans into sort of a land jellyfish. They scour the land, looking for man-flesh to consume.

    I’m the last human Pray for me.

    They’re he…..

  32. Ed Seedhouse says

    I think junk expands to fill much more than the available space. Lost socks, for instance, will be found when we discover hyperspace. Instead of allowing quick travel to the stars hyperspace will be filled with socks and actually be much slower to travel through than regular space. There will be many kinds of hyperspace, each created by different kinds of stuff. When we find stuff that we never left behind we will have found the aliens, albeit indirectly.

  33. says

    Word from the previous tenant of the lab: it is a nice, healthy buffered growth medium that was inoculated with a milk sample from a dairy. Unpasteurized, obviously.

    Now you see that all you have to do is leave that carton of milk in the refrigerator a year past its expiration date, and you too can grow an impressively colorful blob of bacteria.

    I have not opened the bottle. Now I’m afraid to.

  34. chigau (違う) says

    PZ #44
    …it is a nice, healthy buffered growth medium that was inoculated with a milk sample…

  35. antaresrichard says

    Have a Globemaster fly and drop it off in the Arctic!

    “…it creeps. It leaps. It glides, and slides across the floor, right through the door, and all around the wall…”


  36. blf says

    chigau@45, We’ll have to let it out of the bottle to find out… It may tell you before it dissolves you.

    Hopefully, it will also reveal how to put it back into the bottle.

  37. says

    I love old buffers. It seems like no matter what you put in a bottle, something will eventually grow in it. Life will find a way :)

  38. emergence says

    PZ @44

    What, pray tell, was the previous tenant using this for? Any why is it fluorescent yellow?

  39. anonymous3 says

    @PZ 44. I would have guessed a lipid-protein complex in a algal hydrocoloid suspension. Which is apparently not far off. I don’t recognize it from time in the lab but from experiments in vegan gravy. ^_^