Driving Around Town, Shopping for Fabric

Alex claims I do cowboy science because my protocol for DNA isolation requires cutting plastic with hot razor blades. But before we ever get to cut any plastic, we need to grind up the flies. I don’t have any pretty pictures of this process, but I can capture the essence in words (picture may come later). It starts with “homogenizing” about two grams of flies in a few milliliters of buffer. We end up with a Drosophila shake — kind of like a milk shake, only without milk and you probably don’t want to drink it — which has a bunch of particulate matter (pieces of exoskeleton, wings, legs, antennae, etc.). That floating stuff inside of our Drosophila shake gets in the way during the rest of the protocol (remember, we’re trying to get DNA, not just grind up flies), so we need to filter that junk out before we move on.

Yesterday morning, I got an email from an undergrad helping out in the lab. He informed me that we were nearly out of the synthetic mesh that we use to filter the fly parts from the homogenized tissue. No one knew where this plastic mesh came from, so I decided I would try to find an adequate substitute last night. The first stop I hit was Michaels, which was suggested to me by the undergrad. When I showed a small swatch of the fabric to the clerk, she told me the closest thing they carried was in the wedding aisle. I picked up 50 yards of synthetic tulle, and I ran into a fellow grad student at the checkout line. I proudly declared that I was buying something from the wedding aisle at Michaels for the purpose of filtering ground up flies, much to the amusement of everyone. I wasn’t happy with the tulle, however, because it would be a much coarser filter than my preferred synthetic mesh.

The next stop I hit was a local grocery store, where I grabbed some cheese cloth. This had been used in the past to filter the homogenized flies, but I wasn’t a big fan — I preferred my synthetic mesh. I decided to try Lowe’s, in the hopes that hardware store would carry synthetic mesh. They didn’t, but one of the clerks suggested I check out Joann. I first needed to be told what this store is, and then I needed directions (needless to say, I don’t do much shopping for fabrics).

I showed the clerk and Joann my swatch, and she led me to a few synthetic fabrics that are usually used to make tutus. As she showed me my options (none of which matched my swatch all that well), she asked me what I’d be using the fabric for. I think she was quite amused by my answer. After she left me to peruse my options, she shared my answer with her coworker. I approached the cutting table with my chosen swath and was pointed out as the guy who was buying fabric to filter flies. Before cutting me a yard of fabric, the coworker took a look at my sample swatch and mentioned that I may be able to find a better match in another section of the store (I think it was drapery). My helpful (and amused by my deviant intentions) clerk and I ventured into the suggested area and, after poking around for a little bit, found a perfect match.

So, it turns out that I had been using some sort of drapery fabric for filtering fly parts for the past couple of years. I now get to say that I shop for research materials at a fabric supply store.


  1. #1 Juliana
    March 6, 2007

    Here in Brasil we do “cowboys science” in a daily basis!
    Ok, not on a daily basis but I had my moments. 😉
    Six years ago I did a PCR without a thermocycler! Yeap, it works very well.

  2. #2 PZ Myers
    March 6, 2007

    I’ve had days exactly like that — only my quest was for fabric with a pore size of about 0.5 mm, which would be perfect for filtering fish eggs from fish poop and miscellaneous debris.

  3. #3 Sandra Porter
    March 6, 2007

    Back in my technician days, we used plastic bullet boxes for storing DNA samples in the freezer. I went to graduate school in a different state and, when I started working in the lab, I wanted to find some bullet boxes for my samples.

    I can still remember all the strange looks that I got when I asked where people went to buy guns and bullets.

  4. #4 Amit
    March 6, 2007

    Its stories like this that makes me nostalgic for doing wet-lab work again. Have fun at the Fly meetings.

  5. #5 katherine sharpe
    March 6, 2007

    Now you’re going to be completely famous in town…

  6. #6 RPM
    March 6, 2007

    Now you’re going to be completely famous in town…

    Who says I’m not already?

  7. #7 CR McClain
    March 9, 2007

    I frequently use McMaster-Carr. Great online website and super fast delivery. They also carry a variety of meshes both in size (down to a few microns) and material type. Great place for pvc, d rings, lab coats, and everything else you could dream of.


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