How Many Biologists Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

— Shweta Ramdas


Have you ever wondered why there aren’t any biologist bar jokes? It’s probably because the biology lab is a repository of humour all by itself. If you are going, “really?!”, you haven’t heard your friends laughing helplessly because they were stripping (proteins), mating (zebrafish) and being generally self-congratulatory about their great sense of humour. I mean, come on, some of your colleagues at TIFR work on organisms that produce alcohol. How often do you think they need to enter bars anyway?

Oh, yes, biologists can have fun too. The professors at my older research institute decided to ‘chill out’ and organized a photography competition of sorts. Well, microscope imaging is a kind of photography. The best ‘photographer’ would receive the Grand Prize, 5 extra hours on the institutes’s most sought-after microscope and an opportunity to create more pretty images. Now that’s what you call a sense of adventure.

If you still don’t believe me, you only have to turn to what we call ‘the mice people’. Now, we all know the word of Douglas Adams is the word of Truth herself, and mice must thus be, “the protrusion into our dimension of vastly hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings.” The mice people pull their tails, make them fight, starve them, take their mothers away and take out every frustration they have with life on these creatures. When the mice reveal their true colours and invade the world, we know who’s going first. If that’s not true passion and courage, I don’t know what is.

There’s passion, there’s courage, and then there’s dedication. And no-one comes close to the ecologists on the dedication scale. Yes, you tissue-culturist, not even you. You haven’t wandered around the forests around your city collecting monkey faeces, have you? Perhaps microbiologists come close. After all, a certain academic in Boston is known to have jumped with delight when he contracted food poisoning, simply so he could study his infected excreta.

My favourites are the evolutionary biologists. They are biology’s version of physicists, resolute in the belief that they are working on the only thing worth studying. They will hurl facts about why evolution in the time of your ancestors is responsible for your craving potato chips. While you want to hurl said bag of chips at them on one hand, you do feel marginally less guilty for snacking unhealthily—we’re animals, blame the forces of evolution!* They’re also a tad less dismissive towards other disciplines than physicists, so that’s a plus one to them!

So how many biologists does it take to change a lightbulb? Take your pick, but I’m going with infinity—they’ll just manufacture GFP-transgenics to be used as light-generating pets. Glow in the dark rabbits, anyone?

* In case you’re wondering, that’s because fats were hard to come by in nomadic environments, and our bodies are attuned to make us want to obtain and store fat. Our bodies haven’t caught up with the industrial age yet.


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