Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Scientist's Conclusion, Part 5

Sung did a good job on his oral presentation of the thesis project; Carl's coaching had been taken seriously. The presentation was organized in a logical and obvious fashion. Sung stood confidently and enunciated slowly and carefully. The questioning began relatively benignly; Dr. Karesh asked about the turnover time of the tumor line that Sung was using, which led to more general questions on cell cycle kinetics and how cell cycle data were obtained and analyzed. Next came a question on the antigenicity of the tumor line and whether or not it secreted substantial amounts of antigen into the culture medium. Carl had forseen these questions and Sung was prepared to answer them. In fact, he was so well prepared that his answers sounded as if he were reading them from notes. Carl wondered, absently, whether Sung had taken the questions Carl had given him, written out answers to them, and memorized the written answers.
Then Dr. Munster asked, "Why are you using the B-14 tumor line for your studies?"

Sung looked baffled, glanced around at Carl, then said, "I use B-14 tumor line in laboratory."

"Yes, but why do you use it," pursued Munster.

"It is tumor line," answered Sung.

Carl could not refrain from responding. "Otto, it's a fast-growing tumor line that can be made to slow and differentiate by a variety of agents. It's an ideal tumor line for his problem."

Munster turned in his chair. "It's not your exam, Carl." He then looked back at Sung. "How long have you been working with this cell line?"

"Two year," came the reply.

"And after two years, you still don't know the plural of year?" enunciated Munster with Germanic precision.

Sung was baffled, not knowing whether that had been a question, nor whether he was expected to answer it. "Two yearrss," he said with effort, the "r" and "s" sounds rolling in awkward succession off his stiffened tongue and out his pursed lips.

"In the two years that you've been working with it, has the cell line changed?" continued Munster.

"No," said Sung Lee

With Sung's definite "NO." Carl knew that the difficult questioning was about to begin, and he felt a sense of helplessness as he foresaw Sung sinking deeper and deeper into a quicksand of inadequate answers resulting from his failure to perceive the intent behind a question.

"How do you know the cell line hasn't changed?" pursued Munster.

"It has same antigen," responded Sung, ready with an answer and regaining a bit of confidence.

"Is surface antigenicity the only criterion for identifying a cell type? Could there be antigens on the cell surface now that weren't there two years ago and that you haven't assayed for? What about other criteria for identification? Have you karyotyped the line recently? Have you checked metabolic pathways?"

After this barrage of questions, Sung hesitated a moment and finally said, "No." Another hesitation. He glanced at the blank projector screen, then at the blackboard, began walking toward it, stopped, and then turned back toward the expectant faces before him. He moved his mouth a bit as if intending to say something but, apparently thinking better of it, remained silent. He put his hands on the podium and a blank expression came over his face as he stared over the heads of the examiners.

"No?  No, what," queried Munster incredulously. "Have you not checked metabolic pathways? Did you not do karyotyping? Do you not know whether or not your cell line has changed?"

"No," responded Sung, still staring at the back wall of the conference room, his face reddening.

"I have no further questions for the time being," said Munster, turning to Carl.

For the next installment, click here.


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