Ten years ago, I was a graduate student in Evi Lianidou’s laboratory at the University of Athens working on the molecular characterization of circulating tumor cells in breast cancer. In my third year, I had an exciting opportunity to pursue a year-long research exchange program at the University Hospital of Montpellier. With the holidays and my impending trip around the corner, I had just under two weeks to wrap things up. An important pending task was optimizing my experiments so that a colleague could continue the project in my absence. 

          Picture of Cleo Parisi
Cleo Parisi is a research engineer at the Centre of Biological Resources, Biobank Lariboisière, AP-HP.
Cleo Parisi

When I slightly tweaked the experiment and ran my fluorescence intensity measurement assay, I was utterly confused. There was nothing! Panicked, I adjusted the experiment every day for the next few days in search of clues. Then one day, while rummaging through the freezer, which was filled to the brim with boxes and ice build-up, it dawned on me. In a whirlwind of haste, I had grabbed the wrong box.

I had mistakenly used 25 mM MgCl2 when we needed 50 mM MgClto optimally boost DNA amplification. With just two days to spare, I ran the experiment again using the appropriate concentration and voilà! The fluorescence emerged, shining as bright as the festive lights adorning Athens. I finished optimizing the experiment just in time for the holidays. It was a Christmas miracle! 

The project progressed nicely while I was away, and we eventually published the results, which formed the bedrock of my thesis defense.1 In the end, it was a lesson learned and shared. My professor incorporated my graph with the striking drop off in fluorescence in her course as an example to teach students the importance of MgClconcentration in a PCR protocol. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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