Shrink the lab

Smaller and smaller. That’s what’s happening to the gear we use on Lab Without Walls expeditions.

Shrink again.

        • Over the last four years, our Lab-in-a-box has dropped its weight from over 150kg to less than 50kg. We’re now able to do more with less.
        • With our colleagues in Sri Lanka, we’ve gone from 1 assay to 6 and then to 30 in two year jumps.
        • The technology is moving ahead even faster. In future we expect to be able to do even more, with less of the heavy lifting.


Shrink fit.

  • So what can we get into the box now?
  • Actually, it’s not one box, or even a collection of boxes.
  • It all fits into a suitcase. One single, standard suitcase.


 Shrink wrap.

  • Of course, there is more to shipping a molecular biology lab round than engaging a courier company.
  • More than cramming a bundle of delicate medical equipment items in a trunk.
  • The makers of the equipment understand this. Their demonstration units criss-cross Australia in purpose-built freight containers with high density packing, cushioned against bumps and bangs. but the outback demands more.
  • So every item needs polythene wrapping. The fine red dust and delicate electronics don’t make good partners.


 Kitchen shrink. Clearly, there have to be concessions. Travelling light means throwing out the kitchen sink. And a few other items, like the heavier molecular biology platforms. So, high throughput processing, large volume runs and other reference lab functions have to be left on the back burner, beside the kitchen sink. Small is beautiful, as the man said. And you can still cook up a pretty impressive camp meal on a tiny stove.


Paired back to its minimum. Even the team has shrunk to suit road conditions during the National Science Week roadshow




arbovirus onslaught

Arbovirus onslaught

The late start to the 2011 wet season has seen severe MVEV infection in the northwest, where its main endemic region now lies, and further afield in other parts of Australia.

Every wet season Northern Australia faces the possibility of a surge in mosquito-borne virus infections. But the actual numbers of cases vary considerably. Some of that variation can be blamed on fluctuations in rainfall, the wetter years being worse for specific arboviruses like Kunjin virus and Murray Valley Encephalitis virus.

You might think Murray Valley Encephalitis should be in the border territory between Victoria and New South Wales, where most of the early cases were described. But in recent years, MVEV has relocated in the Northwest where conditions appear to favour its mosquito vector and reservoir hosts more than the Murray Valley.

It is fortunate that MVEV only rarely causes encephalitis, since long term complications of nervous system infection often follow this extreme form of the disease. Milder forms of infection are more common, judging from seroepidemiology studies. In the states where chicken flocks are monitored routinely, evidence of MVEV exposure usually precedes the first cases of human infection.

This year, there have already been several cases of encephalitis and many more cases of milder disease. While most of these have occurred in the Northwest, there have been a scattering of MVEV infections in the Southeast. In Western Australia the earliest cases occurred a bit later than usual despite heavy rainfall early in the wet season. Satellite sensing is now being used to predict MVEV risk. However there are likely to be other drivers of infection risk, most likely affecting the complex interactions between virus, vector and reservoir host.

[Notes by the MicroGnome, subject matter expertise courtesy DW Smith, Division of Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, PathWest, Nedlands, WA, 21-APR-11.]