28 - Expensive Mice

Unsichtbares Akkordeon

Transport stress made the planned experiment not only expensive, but unworkable.


A doctoral student in Germany ordered mice from a certain KnockOut series directly from the company in the USA that held the patent. In KnockOut mice, one or more genes are specifically deactivated by genetic manipulation in order to be able to investigate the biological mechanisms regulated by them. In addition, such animals are suitable as a model for human diseases and for pharmacological issues. Because they were ordered in the US the transport costs of the mice (several thousand Euros for animal transport by air) was a large multiple of their value (approx. 3.50 Euros per mouse). To add insult to injury the animals were useless for the planned stress experiment. The transport had already inflicted too much stress on them. A later order from a European licensee for the patent was possible without any problems, but all this cost the doctoral student valuable time and her institute unnecessary expenses. Probably from the point of view of most employees in the laboratory it was "general knowledge" that not only patent holders can deliver the right mice, but also licensees in Europe. This seemed so self-evident that there was no reason to talk about it and the doctoral student would have needed to inquire actively to get this information.

The documents were checked to ensure that the correct genotype mouse was ordered. The rather mundane question of where the mice came from was probably not on the supervisor´s priority list, considering the order was confirmed without the choice of supplier being questioned.

This story shows how important it is to write implicit knowledge down. Had there been a list of possible suppliers of lab animals of different gene lines, the doctoral student would surely have noticed that the US company is only one of several eligible sources. If not only the individual suppliers but also the selection criteria had been recorded, an informed, non-accidental decision could have been made on the source of supply. Such a systematic approach to selection is useful not only for lab animals, but also for software, hardware, measuring instruments and consumables.

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