Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In the name of Science

In an effort to stay topical, I'm going to write an Earth Day post about how I was constantly appalled at how much plastic I threw away when I worked in molecular biology. Absolutely everything needs to be treated with bizarre processes to remove any traces of nucleic acids or RNases and DNases, and then properly disposed of after use. It gets really scary when you start on high-throughput processes and have to use a dozen boxes of tips in a couple of hours.

I know I've seen the worst of it because all I did for the last five years was PCR (aka polymerase chain reaction), which is incredibly easy to contaminate and tough if not impossible to sort out once you do get contamination in equipment or workspaces.

In preparation for this post, I impotently Googled around for some info about what people are doing to make high-tech work like this more sustainable, but terrifyingly enough, there's not much out there. It's not proving a negative to say I can't find something on Google, but it's a bit eerie considering how much Googling I do on any given day.

My tendency toward guilt also reared its head when I had surgery 6 hours away and considered the environmental impact of that adventure. I had a million family members there with me (Thank you everyone!), some who flew and some caravanned with Andy and I over to Seattle from Moscow. Between all the sterilization necessary to practice medicine or perform surgery, I don't know why I haven't heard more about this. And it turns out that there are a number of organizations devoted to making hospitals more sustainable. I'm also curious about the environmental impact of manufacturing all the supplies and drugs. We know that drugs people take pass into the supply of water from which we drink, and I've got a pharmacy of leftover pills that I don't know how to dispose of. (But if you're in the mood for Decadron, and trust me, you're not, I can help you out! Just kidding)

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