#860: A Virus with My Initials

December 8th, 2017

In a few hours, my virus will glow.

On a cold winter night, a group gathered to enjoy Empirical Brewery’s craft selection, look at chicken fetus and corn cell slides through paper microscopes from Foldscope Instruments and paint designs on petri dishes of agar using bacteria that will, in a few hours from this writing, glow Christmas colors.

At the drink-and-draw organized by ChiTown Bio, you could paint whatever you wanted, but the choices of pre-made designs to trace included snowman, reindeer or diagram of a bacteriophage virus. I chose bright red for both the virus and the initials PD I improvised on the side. My wife chose a palette of red, green and white for her hand-drawn petri dreidel.

I’ll write again about the group when I have a chance to sit down with them and talk about the organization in depth. They have hopes and plans for a public lab — which I’ll get into in the future story — but right now ChiTown Bio is a small group of biologists sharing the joy of E. Coli with anyone interested.

The wife and I chatted with the crowd, as much as we could keep up with the talk of gut biomes, art products that become poison gas when mixed and the fact one of the co-founders once tried to calm an arachnophobic ex by explaining we are at every moment crawling with invisible mites that devour our dead skin, which is what keeps us youthful and pretty.

The ex was not calmed.

A constant source of joy for me is learning how others see the world. Sociologists look at life and see a constant class battle; artists a painting not yet painted. Mathematicians see it as a series of invisible rules to suss out, criminals as a battle to win, writers as a series of stories to tell.

I’ve touched on the theme before, but for a specific example, I once wrote a newspaper feature on an early 20th-century wackadoodle who “applied the lessons of common sense” in proposing the scientific theory that the earth was in fact hollow with a 600-mile-diameter central sun and marshy, unexplored continents full of mastodons and Asians.

Marshall Gardener was a machinist at a corset company by trade, and the holder of several patents for sewing machines. He also held two patents related to his hollow earth theory — #1,096,102 for a “Geographic Apparatus” replica of the planet as he saw it and Des. 63,362 for a small necklace or fob ornament hollow earth.

Even though his world was a hollowed gourd of mastodons and Asians (their eyes were slanted through constant squinting at that central sun — let us not pretend this is a fully charming man), an inventor saw the world as something to patent.

What then of people who see life as life? The ones who see the world as something to look at through microscopes? What of those who look at you, see a teeming heap of gut biome with facefuls of invisible flesh-spiders and find it all beautiful?

There’s a table waiting for them at ChiTown Bio, one full of paper microscopes, craft beer and holiday doodles glowing red and green with life.

Read about the hollow earth guy

Read about a man who finds joy through bookbinding

What's this?

You are currently reading #860: A Virus with My Initials by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • Get Stories by Email

  • Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

    Join the email list for tour dates and info.