Labs break for annual strawberry tradition
By Jeffrey Stumpf
On a warm, sunny Tuesday afternoon, NIEHS scientists in the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics (LMG) and Laboratory of Structural Biology (LSB) took a break from research to attend the 27th annual strawberry feast May 1, sponsored by the Replication Fidelity Group. Keeping with tradition, the group harvested the strawberries from a local patch in preparation for one of its best-attended events.
LSB chief Tom Kunkel, Ph.D., began the celebration, in front of a capacity audience in the cramped patio on the second floor of the F module in Building 101. The veteran scientist and strawberry festival emcee gave some playful, if unsolicited, fashion advice, suggesting, “Perhaps next year, we’ll require a dress code for the strawberry feast — that everybody wear red.”
A bounty of fruit
The epicenter of the feast was a large table with an impressive amount of strawberries, over a dozen cakes, several tubs of ice cream, and many cans of whipped cream. As the crowd encircled the massive dessert display, comments by folks looking forward to their impending indulgence drowned out sporadic mutterings about calorie counting.
Scientist Mercedes Arana, Ph.D., noted that picking strawberries this year proved to be challenging because of the weather and scheduling conflicts. “It had rained recently and was very muddy,” Arana remembered. “Then we realized that we had scheduled a group seminar for a prospective postdoc and had to finish quickly.”
Despite less than ideal conditions, the lab members and their families approached a record for the harvest by gathering about 135 pounds of strawberries.
A family affair
The tradition started 27 years ago when Kunkel picked enough strawberries for his lab to enjoy. The idea blossomed into a full-fledged festival, attracting hungry scientists in search of a cure for spring fever. For scientist Scott Lujan, Ph.D., the feast has become a family tradition. “My older son has been to the strawberry feast five times, and he just turned four,” Lujan noted. Young Lujan was three weeks old at his first strawberry feast but was unavailable for comment at the time.
Watching the children grow up builds camaraderie and contributes to the family atmosphere of the event and the two departments, which is important to Kunkel. “Strawberries, cake and ice cream make my colleagues smile,” Kunkel said. “They bring their kids too, giving me an excuse to play with them.”
(Jeffrey Stumpf, Ph.D., is a research fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Molecular Genetics Mitochondrial DNA Replication Group and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor. He is also a volunteer strawberry tasting consultant.)