Forbes and Fifth

Lab Musings

Underbelly Lab

The right-side------------------------------------

stairwell will take you------------------->

below the biology lectures to

the underbelly------

with a






by the generous spacing


---------of fluorescent bulbs

---------highlighting the walls of zoomed-in mutated fly eye posters,

---------colorless and

---------------captured by scanning electron microscopes.

If you refuse to beware the haunting honeycomb ommatidia

distorted to blindness,

you will approach a


---------elevator refusing to elevate

---------trapping you in,

---------for a beat,

---------until the opposite door slides open

------------------to let you cross the threshold


onto the other side of the sterilized,

stark white life sciences annex,

doors decorated by orange biohazard labels and SDS warnings,

guarded by access codes


concealing the fridges shelved with stocks

of deviant flies bottled into viles,

each frantic to escape

the blur of its wobbling siblings

clumsy to trek upward, overexerting its straw legs

for the scientist has restricted it from

employing the air.

The wildtype fly must see its neighbor in the vile next door

and wonder about its fellow fly

with a rough eye and crinkly wing

fruitless in performing the very function for

which it

is named.

The scientist knows the fly serves as a sacrifice

and devises it with overactive shroom proteins, folding cells into disorder

and disfunction


------------------or the possibility

of controlling the madness

of a neural tube paired with unsuitable shroom proteins

within an ill-fated human embryo

unable to sustain life

in our harsh ecosystem,

------------------and for this possibility,

millions of dew-loving fruit flies

have lived in suffering, and the armies built have


some with purpose

------------------------others simply casualties,

yet each death is unseen by the outside world

for fear of a cruel conception.


Here I defy the access codes by

staining this page with the same ink

labeling the mutations on vials


because I see the tightly shut lab gates

directed not at outsiders

but at defending the outside


------------------from contamination

------------------by broken flies, blind and flightless

-------------------------infecting the gene pool

---------------------------------cascading into fly population



a possibility haunting me

in every encounter with a fly

circling about my eye

-------------------------for maybe I carried it

-----------------------------------------------away from the underbelly


into my reality.


Wing Gallery


The straight wildtype


arches like a seamless sail

lined like veins on a leaflet

and dotted with ordered cells


folded or apically constricted

perfectly well

by shroom protein into a classic wing

without alteration, or modification

allowing swift flight and graceful glides

about the glass vile

but neglected by the scientist

engrossed by mutation



The crinkly experimental


curls up along the edges

like the

browned, folded chip fried to

a burnt crisp at the bottom of the bag

branded with a significantly larger

evolutionary disadvantage

than the straight wing variety

concocted by a factory lab

corrupted by cell machinery on overdrive

folding wing cell sheets

into crimped, crumpled




The virginal female


Ridged with cerulean blue

Much like the rippled edges of a water

droplet breached by pigmented brush


which strokes gently

Preserving the vulnerable rhythmic inflations

Of the pale white female abdomen


Wielded by an observer of lines, curves,

coloring of a wildtype wing which will

Inevitably mature to grayness

And fall under the forceps

Or funnel into the

fly morgue

Confessions of a fly killer

In a lab, the absence

of a paintbrush’s gentle strokes leaves

fly plates painted with red splotches where

chosen forceps crushed the body


of a female darkened, marking an unwanted encounter with a male

so, she is scraped off the white slab

and gently pushed into

a fly morgue,

which douses each fly in ethanol

where it meets the carcasses of thousands of other floating flies

fixed in the state they were in when they became of disuse for me.


I have peered into my scope for months now and sorted a hundred flies into irrelevance

saving only the virgin females and discarding the males for fear of their sperm contaminating the pool

with offspring of undesirable genotypes.


I have rued my power as the creature larger than you

who mates your parents to determine your birth,

nourishes your embryonic young with buttery yellow cornmeal and yeast,

and sorts you into viles to give you space to climb, fly, and flit.


Only to snatch your glutinous white larvae even before they pupate into a shell,

To prod them as they squirm in a fluid filled well,

To chase the ripples and grip the wormy head in one forceps while tearing the intestines with the other

until the nerves stop firing

and I am left with a lifeless cellophane body,

and the ability to invert the carcass,

to isolate the brain for study.


I have reflected upon my experimental designs created

with the knowledge of your imminent death at my hands

with a goal that rejects the guilt in favor of achieving what it wants:

the knowledge, the knowledge of your proteins.


Dew-loving fly,

Listen out for the screams

Of your fellow flies


Lost into ethanol


in the fly morgue.

Two Cultures


Prepare the light weight muslin canvas, stretched across a wooden frame, with diluted 33% starch mixture so paint pigments will bind to ivory, matte canvas Prepare dainty, opaque fly embryos on apple juice plate with 50% bleach to unravel extracellular chorion layer so stain will adhere to pellet-like, white body


Spray and slather on starch mixture spreading with heavy strokes of a broom paintbrush to blend the faint straw yellow stain across the taut linen surface Swirl and stroke bleach in embryo plate scattering with thin feathery watercolor brush to delicately lift the embryos, borne by the buttery yeast surface


Fix up acrylic paint primer tinted with drop of sky blue pigment in an old yogurt cup. Blend and apply paint compounds for a layer coating the canvas with a membrane. Fixate embryos in 1:1 mix of formaldehyde: heptanes in a clear tube. Shake and replace layers with methanol stripping the embryos of their vitelline membrane.


Mix pigments of paint to match shades and tints to hues of the scenic design and add two spoons water to reduce viscosity and create condiment consistencies. Colors will sink separately into palette craters. Mix antibody stains to bind embryonic neurons and shroom protein separately and add PBT with goat serum to prevent non-specific binding. Embryo antigens will glue onto distinctive antibody binding sites.


Paint foliage with 488 wavelength pigment and the sunsetting sky with 568 wavelength. Maintain vibrancy by preventing complementary paints from fusing and dulling the canvas brown. Pipette lime green fluorescent tags to shroom protein antibodies and crimson red tags to neuron antibodies. Complementary tags will maintain separation between neurons and shroom site results.


Meticulously scumble and spatter paint, guided by the thin curves of a pencil drawing, with colors chosen to reflect intended pigment and absorb all others. Take a few steps back from the details of stippled strokes and smudged shading to appreciate the painter’s microcosm cathartically communicated Microscopically fluoresce embryos stained to emit color allowing the search for colocalization where neuron and shroom stains overlap. Step back from segmented embryos and speckled staining patterns and appreciate the possibility of preventing neural defects afflicting a mother’s human embryo


Present to critics and enthusiasts who debate and derive meaning in the quiet and contemplatively wide spaces of a fine art gallery Present to researchers and students for scrutiny and applause who confirm and contribute knowledge in a crowded research symposium


Wildtype – refers to the phenotype of the typical form of a species as it occurs in nature

Ommatidia –The compound eyes of arthropods like insects, crustaceans and millipedes are composed of units called ommatidia (singular: ommatidium). An ommatidium contains a cluster of photoreceptor cells surrounded by support cells and pigment cells.

Chorion – the outermost fetal membrane around the embryo

Fixate – In the fields of histology, pathology, and cell biology, fixation is a critical step in the preparation of histological sections by which biological tissues are preserved from decay, thereby preventing autolysis or putrefaction

Heptanes – colorless liquid hydrocarbon of the alkane series, used for fixating embryos

Vitelline membrane – The vitelline membrane or vitelline envelope is a structure surrounding the outer surface of the plasma membrane

Fluoresce – the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation

Shade – the mixture of a color with black, which reduces lightness

Tint – the mixture of a color with white, which increases lightness

PBT and goat serum – reduces non-specific site binding and reduces “noise” or unintentional fluorescence.

Complementary colors – colors opposite on color wheel (e.g. red and green, blue and orange, purple and yellow)

Scumble – blending paint from a relatively dry brush onto the painting, leaving behind fragments of color

Spatter – To scatter drops of paint in drops or small amounts by gently hitting the handle of a wet brush

Stipple – the creation of a pattern simulating varying degrees of solidity or shading by using small dots

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Volume 13, Fall 2018