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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 9. MWG-Biotech

Better late than never...

Ok, this is an obscure one I'll admit. MWG-Biotech have pissed me off royally this past fortnight and so I have awarded them a Tuesday Twat nomination. That puts them in the same category as Jordan and Harry Hill. Fuckers.

MWG-Biotech are a biochemical reagents company. They supply the various gubbins that molecular biologists need to do their jobs. Their speciality is custom oligonucleotides. Basically, that is short stretches of DNA containing a specific sequence of ATCs and Gs specified by the customer.

A couple of weeks ago I ordered 8 pairs of these oligos to use as PCR primers to make some probes for my southern blots (scroll down and read a couple of my previous posts for a description of what a southern blot is). Anyway, I got these primers and followed the supplied instructions to prepare them, then used them immediately to make my probes. First time around, only 3 of the 8 reactions worked. Initially I wasn't too worried - there are a range of variables that need to be tweaked to get a PCR reaction to work. When I designed the primers, I used a number of tools on the web to calculate what conditions I needed for my raection to work, however the whole process is only partially understood and so the calculated conditons are only a rough guide.

So I repeated the reactions, using slightly different conditions. The same 3 reactions worked, with nothing from the other reactions. Now I was starting to get slightly worried. I knew that my primer designs couldn't be a milion miles off the mark, so I was expecting to at least get something, even it was really shitty and needed to be optimised more. These reactions are the final step before I can go ahead and complete these southern blots. My boss SWMNBN is getting very shirty about me having no results, and I have a conference coming up in which I am expected to talk about these results. With a couple of weekends away and Easter coming up, time is very, very tight.

I switched to using a more sophisticated PCR machine and modified the computer program controling the reaction still more. Still the same 3 positive results. Now I was really starting to worry. In desperation I started to modify the chemistry of the reaction slightly. Same result. I polled my workmates for advice and even posted the problem on an internet discussion board. Going back to the orginal design, I checked every single variable imaginable. I sat at my computer until 3 am. By the end I was exhausted, very stressed and had missed a party and a meal I was supposed to attend. I could spot no reason why these reactions should not work, and no pattern between those that didn't work and those that did.

Finally, in desperation I reordered the exact same oligos. That cost £50. That's £50 of YOUR tax money.

Monday, the newly synthesised oligos arrived. I tried them out, using the first set of conditions.

Bingo! - perfect results first time!

Yup. MWG had fucked up my order (and 10 out of 16 is a big fuck up).

Estimated Cost?
Several hundred pounds in wasted reagents.
16 hours plus of actual bench time, when I could have been doing other things.
It's held back my work by at least a week.
On a personal level, I have worked into the early hours on several occassions, given up a large chunk of my weekend and missed a couple of social events. I am now working even longer hours to catch up. Its caused me serious stress and other colleagues have given up their allocated slots on equipment to let me solve this problem.

I have written a letter demanding a full refund and appropriate compensation. Obviously, I won't see a penny of it, but I will derive some satisfaction if MWG are gracious enough to waive the fee on my next order.

I'll keep you posted.

Thanks a bunch you twats!




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