"IT WAS A FALSE POSITIVE, GEOFF!"

November 19, 2015

...is probably not the best thing to say while bursting into a classroom full of peers. Oops.

 

But first, let me back up:

 

It was an ordinary morning on Friday (the 13th). The Hill, Hood, and Wada labs were clustered around the conference room table, discussing Geoff's ballsy paper on the importance of mitonuclear compatibility to mate choice across all eukaryotic taxa--yes, even plants. I was checking my notes when an email popped up with a concerning subject line; and when you get an email with "chlamydia" in the title, you know you have to check it.

 

HEART. STOPPED.

 

Two deceased canaries from my research aviary came back positive for *gasp* avian chlamydia! No, not that chlamydia--but yes, they are related. AC--or ornithosis, psittacosis, chlamydiosis--is actually not uncommon in captive bird flocks, and is treatable with antibiotics. However, several strains are ZOONOTIC, meaning they can be transmittable to humans. We could not identify the particular strain detected in the canaries until the results of genetic sequencing came in--a week or more later.

 

The aviary was on LOCKDOWN. No cleaning, no medication, no entry except in head-to-toe protective gear--and even then, only to refill food and water. Worst case? The entire colony would be euthanized if the strain was determined to be zoonotic. Whoa.

 

Desperate to salvage something out of a bad situation, Geoff and I scrambled for contingency plans involving getting as much data from the birds as possible. I argued for access to the birds to begin a harmless experiment, and was told to go through multiple rounds of respirator training--involving several purchases, a 30-min appointment at Alabama Occupational Medicine, a second appointment with health and safety here at the university, and a ridiculous number of hoops to jump through.

 

The prospect of mass euthanasia and the uncertainty of the future was the worst of it.

 

But then, several days later and mere minutes before Geoff's sexual selection class, I receive a follow-up email: the chlamydia diagnosis was a false positive. It appears that the PCR primers cross-reacted with the canary DNA, because the isolates did not  remotely match any avian chlamydia strain in GenBank (but did partially match some canary sequences).

 

Quarantine was lifted. I shredded "warning" signs and busted out the cleaning supplies, canceled appointments and resumed experimentation. But the very first thing I did? Burst into Geoff's classroom with an "IT WAS A FALSE POSITIVE, GEOFF!!" :D

 

Oh, the joys of live animal research!

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