NIH Finds Old Small Pox, Ricin: What’s in Your Lab?

There can be weird old stuff in the freezers, fridges, and elsewhere in labs.

Most labs try to do the equivalent of a spring cleaning now and then to make a dent in the accumulation of this kind of stuff.

Recently the NIH found various old stuff in their labs including two very unnerving findings: living smallpox and the deadly poison, Ricin.

What’s the scariest, weirdest, oldest, or funniest thing you’ve found in your lab cleanings or when you inherited an old lab from another lab that left?

Things I’ve heard were found somewhat unexpectedly from other labs over the years:

  • A human brain.
  • Old fashioned sequencing gel autorads with those classic A,C, T, G ladders of bands (actually pretty cool).
  • Chemicals with expiration dates in the 1970s.
  • Buffer with giant crystals in them.
  • Buffers with strange fungal colonies inside them.
  • Old PCR machines with 24 slots.
  • Actual hard copy photographs of data such as pictures of gels or cells taken with a camera with film.
  • Teenage mutant ninja turtles action figures from the 1980s.
  • Weird apparatus that no one recognizes but that looks important and expensive.
  • Hardcopy paper reprints.
  • Unidentifiable “stuff”.
  • “Xerox” copies of library articles.
  • Weird frozen or fixed animal parts.
  • Hundreds of epi tubes with no labels on them (Sharpie wore off).
  • Dot-matrix printers.
  • Old bacterial plates with wild fungal or bacterial colonies growing on them.
  • Scads of tubes with apparently nothing in them.
  • Floppy disks (do you even know what these are?)




1 thought on “NIH Finds Old Small Pox, Ricin: What’s in Your Lab?”

  1. When I was in graduate school in the 1970’s, our department actually found a frozen vial of smallpox virus in the freezer of a faculty member who had died some time before. (They autoclaved it, they said.)

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