Life in the Media Preparation Area

By Sarah Barber

Rather than journalists or twitter, the media we are concerned with are the many different types of agar, solutions and liquids that the John Innes Centre’s scientists use to grow microorganisms and plants.

I supervise the Media Preparation Area at the John Innes Centre. I’ve worked in lots of media preparation roles before joining the John Innes Centre back in 2016. After graduating from the University of Exeter, I worked in several Microbiology and Chemistry Laboratories in different industries including food production, malting, and veterinary pathology. I’ve also worked as a Field Trials Technician for a local agronomy company.

Unlike some services, who work across the Norwich Research Park, we only cover the John Innes Centre. Some other institutes on the park have their own teams and facilities but we help each other out where we can, especially when any equipment breaks down.

There are 16 of us in the John Innes Centre Laboratory Support Team, with up to six people working in the Media Preparation Area at one time.

In the Media Preparation Area we make media for Scientists across the institute. Being a large institute, spread out across different buildings, we are quite a disparate team, with a supervisor in each building alongside technicians and ‘core team’ members.

In the Media Preparation Area, the main services we provide are;

  • Media preparation
  • Cleaning, drying and baking of new and used laboratory consumables
  • Sterilisation of media, water, laboratory consumables and microbiological waste

Our aim is to support the scientists in many ways so that they can focus as much of their time and attention as possible on their research. We also do these things in bulk, such as making media and producing sterile consumables, therefore by working in this way we greatly improve overall efficiency.

Every day is different, although LB media, sometimes known as ‘growth media’ which is a nutrient rich broth for bacteria, crops up most days, special media requests and volumes required vary greatly.

That said, the clock provides a loose structure to how we work. Media must be made in the morning, and completed by 12:30. This is because (all but one) media has to be put through the autoclave to ensure sterile media is produced ready for the scientists.

An autoclave is a machine used to sterilise both liquid and solid items using a combination of high temperatures and pressures in order to achieve biological inactivation.

The autoclaves take between 2 and 3 hours to complete their cycles, so to give us time to run the autoclave, empty the machines and re-load ready for the overnight microbiological waste cycle, we need to have the media cycles running by 1pm.

Therefore, every morning is dedicated to media preparation. Usually we have 1 or 2 people making up the special requests, while the rest of us are on stock media. We rotate this around so everybody can do everything and it helps keeps it interesting, particularly when a more unusual request comes in.

We hold stock media, such as LB media, on a bank of shelves, which is essentially a supermarket shelf of the most common media. For the special requests, we have a ‘Media Preparation Area Request’ form, whereby scientists can order specific variations of media.

We have recipe books of all the media we can offer, or Scientists can even send us their own recipes. For special media we ask for a minimum of 2 days’ notice, but for more common types that we hold in stock, we have them immediately available.

Our Media Preparation service, is a fully bespoke service and once we’ve prepared the media, we provide it to the scientists in the receptacle of their choice, with everything being ordered and specified online. We ensure a high standard of media quality control is maintained by checking media for colour and consistency. Various factors, such as using different autoclaves can result in slight differences between batches, however we only stock media we are happy with and the colour and consistency is within the usual range.

Alongside media making, we also have the day-to-day tasks such as preparing sterile laboratory consumables, processing used laboratory glassware, repairing any damaged glassware and maintaining our stock of chemicals.

We also maintain and clean equipment such as autoclaves, the TrasyX dispenser, glassware washers, ovens, weighing cabinets, laminar flow, and fume hood. I also always ensure the MPA is a clean and tidy place to work as a whole, as I believe this makes it a more enjoyable and more efficient place to work.

Every day we also have to deal with the ‘kill’.

The kill is the microbiological waste that is produced in the labs, such as the plants that have reached the end of their useful, experimental, lives and which come down to us for disposal.

The kill is autoclaved overnight and in accordance with strict biological inactivation requirements, all the kill cycles are recorded. At 11am each morning we all come together to dispose of the kill. It’s a smelly job, but we enjoy it because dealing with the kill is the one time we are all together, so it’s quite sociable.

In addition to our existing services, we are expanding this year and from 1 April 2018, we will be offering a plate pouring service.

Plate pouring is where we use media which contains a percentage of agar, and potentially other additions such as antibiotics, which is poured into petri dishes. These are then left to set so that an agar plate is produced, which is in a more usable format for the scientists.

To allow us to pour plates aseptically and potentially on a large scale, we had a laminar flow hood installed recently, which provides a sterile area behind an air barrier, suitable for pouring plates.

Using media we have prepared and autoclaved that morning, we pour plates in the afternoon and, once set, the plates are delivered to a cold room or fridge as specified by the scientist.

As part of the plate pouring service, we deal with some antibiotics as these can be added to the media before pouring plates. We don’t require any medical licencing and we buy direct from chemical suppliers. It arrives in powder form, which we then make up into stock solutions and pipette into the sterilised media as required.