“You don’t know how lucky you are!” – PCR in the old days

Recently I gave a workshop about online engagement and blogging in our Faculty. The result of this was a bunch of new tweeters and new science blogs on the block. To keep the momentum going, we started a “Breakfast Blogging Club”, with a meeting every two weeks. Why the name? Because we meet in the mornings for coffee and pastry and because it abbreviates to BBC – makes it sound more “serious” to say you are joining a BBC discussion than a discussion about blogging! One of the things we decided was to have a monthly theme to which everyone would contribute an article in their blog. Our first theme is “You don’t know how lucky you are” and Sam at ScienceySphynx explains what this means:

The ‘you don’t know how lucky you are’ (YDKHLYA) was a reference to the polymerase actually being Taq polymerase from the thermophile Thermus aquaticus. Most importantly it was because I did not know how lucky I was and still to this day just can not wrap my head around how lucky I am, how lucky we are. It should be said that this ‘YDKHLYA’ was shortly followed with a ‘back in my day’ (BIMD) and unfurled into a reminiscence of PCR before the use of thermo stable DNA polymerase.

Sam beat me to it, as I also wanted to write about PCR back in the old days.  My angle is slightly different though – as in, you don’t know how lucky you are to have those fancy digital small PCR thermocyclers!

(A short break to refresh your memory about the mechanism of the polymerase chain reaction.)


This is a very, very old PCR machine. The photo’s description says: “Early model of a Polymerase Chain Reaction machin (“Gene Machine”), featuring three constant temperature baths and a robotic action that moves samples between the baths”. Amazing, isn’t it?!


I also enjoyed this photo of a self-assembled PCR machine from 1987 by Oliver Smithies. Our health and safety officer would get a heart attack if he saw this in our lab.


How does a PCR machine look like today? They are much smaller, sleeker and have extra features such as display screens, user folders or options for temperature gradients. Look at this one, it’s purple! WANT!!!



Modern thermocyclers also have a heated lid to prevent condensation of water. This means that you don’t have to overlay your reaction with mineral oil, as I still had to do when I did my diplom thesis. After the PCR had finished, we pipetted the PCR reaction onto parafilm and the two phases created something resembling a fried egg sunny side up. You then had to pipette the PCR reaction back into a tube before you could use it for loading a gel.  Don’t you know how lucky YOU are?!

No blog post should finish without a song and this one seems perfect.


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