Category Archives: Dr. Pickering

Safety Fun, First

Rebecca Smith

Pickering Labs decided to place an increased awareness on Safety for 2015!  Don’t get me wrong – laboratory safety is always critical.  We have proper equipment for lifting heavy packages, we provide lab coats and goggles, our employees always use gloves, and we host ergonomics training.  But none of these are especially glamourous, and I have to be careful not to schedule my spill cleanup presentations for right after lunch… 

So this year, we really spiced up some of our safety meetings!  Starting in January, we got the entire company out in the parking lot and had live fire training for proper extinguisher use.  The group had a great time, and the Cintas trainers made fire safety really fun!  Each person got to take a turn, and even Michael Pickering was out there wielding his ABC extinguisher with style.


If you’ve never had “live fire” training for your fire extinguisher class, let me be the first to recommend it.  The whole group was buzzing with energy and excitement.  It makes you really aware of how hard it is to twist and pull the pin, and how little time you have during an actual fire to get it extinguished.  The trainers really did an excellent job of keeping the pressure on to put those fires out!


Next, our staff got together this summer and we took a basic First Aid course, supported by the installation of two new fabulous first aid kits!  We paired up and treated “burns” and wrapped gauze around the “head wounds” of our partners.  Again, much fun was had and we learned great first aid skills in the process.  We only had one volunteer for the Heimlich maneuver, and sadly they didn’t wish for everyone to have a turn practicing!  


But seriously, one of the great things that actually came out of our first aid class was an overwhelming interest in having an onsite AED installed.  The trainer from Cintas discussed some pretty powerful stuff – your chances of surviving cardiac arrest are significantly better with the use of a bystander automated external defibrillator.  An American Heart Association paper from 2011 on resuscitation science that I just read ( shows about a 3.5X times better survival rate (49.6% versus 14.3%), and that data is from a 2006-2009 study!  (For more accurate information than I can give you from my random afternoon internet search, feel free to contact Cintas or another provider of safety training.)

The best part about the AED we selected is that there are step-by-step pictures AND verbal instructions for what to do.  And of course it will not issue a shock unless the AED itself determines that there is a need.  So, that takes the guesswork out of whether or not to use the AED during a health emergency (and nobody can chase a coworker around the lab, either).


So, now that we’re sold – what’s next?!  We ordered the AED, sure, but there’s more to it than that.  We have to register the AED with Stat PADS, the Medical Direction / Physician Oversight service that Cintas works with to provide AEDs.  They work with the local Mountain View emergency medical services to post the location of our AED into their network, another requirement for having one onsite.

And last but not least, the whole company is getting CPR certified and trained on the AED!  Our November safety meeting will be dedicated to this training, and our employees hopefully get a great day out of it.  We will have five hours of training and catered lunch for our midday break! 

So by now you’re probably thinking to yourself “that’s great, Rebecca, but what does all this mean for me?!”  Well, it means that if you’re placing an order with Pickering Labs on November 17, you might consider emailing rather than calling.  Everyone here will be busy practicing CPR on each other and we won’t be available to take your call!  Phone calls will be returned before 9:00am PST and after 2:00pm on that day. 

If you have urgent business, let me know and I will give you Michael Pickering’s cell phone number! 

(An inside joke, as Michael doesn’t have a cell phone.)

Best regards!

Secondary Metabolites

By Michael Pickering

Peyote Plants (1)

This name encompasses the category of chemicals that living organisms make which are not used in their normal growth, development, or reproduction.  They are a staggering array of chemical structures and properties.  Antibiotics are largely produced by bacteria, and a large variety of mammalian toxins are of fungal origin.  Pigments are produced by both botanicals and insects.  The peyote cactus, Lophophora williamsii, produces the hallucinogenic alkaloid mescaline.  Fugu, the Chinese puffer fish, harbor symbiotically produced tetrodotoxin.  


Puffer Fish at Japanese Market (2)
The producers of these exotic structures usually must isolate them to keep them out of the traffic of their living processes.  They can interfere with everyday life, or more often are toxic for the producer.  Dalea emoryi (aka dyebush) makes an intense red pigment that it stores in blister-like vesicles on its bark.  Coyotillo shrubs, Karwinskia humboldtiana, make deadly neurotoxins which they store in the seeds, discouraging browsing animals such as cattle, deer, and sheep from eating them. (You can read more about this plant in a previous newsletter:  Coyotillo in Del Rio, Texas)

Lotus scoparius, or deer weed, makes a water-soluble flavinoid, which is a biodegradable germination inhibitor, and stores in its seeds.  Upon first rain, this compound sterilizes the surrounding ground so that no seeds can germinate.  The result is that competitive weed seeds rot.  When the second rain comes, the deer weed seeds germinate with nothing but clear sky surrounding them. 

Sometimes, we can see a competitive advantage of the presence of these chemicals: attracting pollinators, protective insects, or mates, or discouraging predators, competitors, or tramplers.  But often not.  Today’s musings are about two species (an insect and a botanical): Daclylopius coccus and Citrus sinensis. 
"Gusano Rojo", Dactylopius coccus

Red dyes produced by insects have been and remain among the most important dyestuffs in human commerce.  Before the Americas were exploited, the most abundant source of red pigments was the Asian scale insects and their excretions.  This broad class of quinoid dyes bind permanently to proteinaceous substrates (in dye talk they are ‘fast’) such as wool and silk.  Historically, they have also been used as art pigments.

Early in the 16th century, the Spanish introduced the world to the American cochineal, and the Asian scale insects were doomed to a mere historical reference. 

Cacti with Cochineal (3)



Cochineal Cluster (3)

The females of this American species that feeds on cactus provide the popular Latino name “red worm.”  Interestingly, Dactylopius coccus is not actually a worm, but is part of the cochineal family. By dry weight, the females can produce an astounding double digit percentage of pigment.  The pigments have great variation of color and intensity (Carminic Acid extinction coefficient 6800, Laccaic Acid A extinction coefficient 43700).  The commercial growers of the pigment use the cactus Indian Fig Opuntia (Opuntia ficus-indica) to feed the caterpillars, whose fruit and tender young shoots are also popular in Latino diets.  The same insects in a blue agave farm are considered a pest.

Because of the significance of these insect-derived pigments in human history, they are the subject of anthropological study in ancient art.  In 2004, we were invited into the study by the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research of the Smithsonian Institute.  Although the pigments have long wavelength chromophores (little or no interference) and large extinction coefficients, the sample size is only 2-5 ng to minimize damage.  As the pigments are only a small component of the sample, adequate detection requires a post-column reaction to make the pigments fluorescent.  We made them an inert system as the reagent AlCl3 is a powerful reducing agent, which translates as very corrosive to hardware.  During the reaction, the Al3+ reduces the quinone to a hydroquinone, which chelates the spent Al3+ and makes the entire complex fluorescent. 


Oranges, Citrus sinensis

Valencia oranges produces two main bitter principles, Limonin, a terpenoid, and Naringin, a flavenoid, which it mainly stores in its seeds.  The seeds are easily removed when the fruit is harvested for juice.  Lacking seeds, the navel orange must develop a different storage strategy. 
The navel orange stores the Limonin and Naringin as tasteless precursors (at neutral pH) in the peel, concentrated in the vestigial seed, the navel end.  When the orange is juiced, the membranes are torn and spill their contents into the acidic juice.  The acidity catalyzes the hydrolytic elimination of a sugar from a tertiary alcohol and facilitates a ring-closure to form a lactone, the bitter Limonin.  
The tasteless Naringin precursor reacts similarly.
California, and I am sure other commercial orange-producing areas, has strict standards for exportability of the whole fruit, size being paramount.  Thus, the most important commercial value in un-exportable fruit is the juice.  One hundred percent navel orange juice is unpalatably bitter. 

It is my opinion, and I encourage you to compare, that non-specific blended frozen orange juice concentrates contain a noticeable amount of navel orange juice.  Pure Valencia concentrate is available, so do the experiment and voice your opinion.  We will post opinions (with your bylines, or make up a cool avatar name) in the next newsletter.   

Further Reading and Photo Credits:

1) Peyote photo from Wikipedia:

2) Puffer fish Photo by Mikael:
3) Cochineal Photos from Wikipedia:

Pickering Laboratories in 2013

By Wendy Rasmussen

In recent years, we have released several new products and applications, and with still more on the horizon, it occurred to me that now would be a great time to summarize the Pickering of today – our mindset and our wide variety of products & applications.

Acai Berries
Acai Berries

No longer are we simply the “Post-Column Company”. We are the “Automated-Sample Antioxidants” company.  Think of us as the new “super fruit.” The Acai berry, or perhaps the new Chia Seeds (incidentally, we do have a post-column application for the identification & quantitation of  Antioxidants in a variety of matrices).

We are still very active, and we as a company plan to be here for many years to come. We are still the company founded on chemistry and a desire to to teach, to spread our technical expertise, to support our customers.

It’s been a few years now since Pickering began distributing and supporting our LCTech Product line.  The products have shown an ever increasing interest here in the US and in Canada (our official Sales Territory for this product line). We are very proud to offer these products and we hope we can develop it further in the future.

Historically, we have provided the back-end of an analysis (post-column derivatization). Nowadays, we can provide the front-end of analysis as well (the sample-cleanup).

In thinking about our product offerings, I realized that a simple list does not effectively show the scope of the products we have to offer in 2013 – primarily because we have a lot of overlap between products and product lines.  We’re not a vertical company in that regard.  I suppose one could say our product offerings are more circular in that many do not fall into a single distinct category.  I am a very visual person, and for me, a Venn diagram and our overall “product scale” really helped to understand and clarify our products:

Venn Diagram of Pickering Laboratories
Venn Diagram of Pickering Laboratories
General "Product Scale" for Pickering Offerings
General “Product Scale” for Pickering Offerings
For those of who like lists, you can find one Here, on Pickering’s website, and on LCTech’s Website

For any Questions, please feel free to contact us:

Pickering Laboratories, Inc.
Mountain View, California
Phone: (direct) 650-694-6700 or (toll-free) 800-654-3330


Image of Acai Berries:

Caltrans, the Blunder Lizard

By Michael Pickering

The largest known dinosaur was the Brontosaurus, literally the thunder lizard.  Its brain, estimated as the size of a fist, was too small to manage the whole beast. Apatozaur, Apatosaurus, Brontozaur, Brontosaurus,, Instead, it used a distributed intelligence in the form of neuro-bodies called ganglia.  Since they had only one neural system, the decision nodes were in constant, real-time communication.  This form of committee decision is the initial model for Caltrans management.  However, unlike the dinosaur, Caltrans adds an orthogonal system of decision node ganglia.  Not only is there a multiplicity of decision nodes within Caltrans, but other state agencies are nodes as well.  The dinosaur’s decisions were planar while Caltrans is a volume, both horizontal and vertical.

In the last century, during my early teens, perhaps middle or high school, I heard a Q/A joke:

Q:  What’s orange and sleeps four?

A:  A Caltrans van.

Caltrans was founded in 1895 as the Bureau of Highway.  Today it owns and operates ~15,000 miles of the California State Highway System.  Its annual budget is in excess of six billion dollars and it has more than 20,000 employees.

Because of the amount of public moneys involved and the scale of their projects, Caltrans regularly makes front-page news.  Unfortunately, it is always bad ink: delivery deadlines missed by years, budget overruns by many zeros.

In 1993, in order to address these common failures, Caltrans Director Van Loben Sels issued a charter to hold a peer review of the project management implementation plan.  The study group included Bechtel Corp., the U.S. Corps of Engineers, and the US Department of the Navy.  Some of their findings include the lack of:

  • realistic goals and objectives linked to civil service constraints;
  • communication, with specific roles and responsibilities not uniformly understood;
  • consistent management support with different district agendas; and
  • authority, with micromanagement by headquarters.

Similarly, in 1994 SRI International evaluated project management in response to Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 72.

bay bridge new span 2013
Eastern Span of Bay Bridge in 2013
Photo: Michael Macor, The SF Chronicle

The study found that Caltrans remains “rule driven” rather than “product driven” due to its longstanding bureaucratic culture.  SRI concluded that the Caltrans culture, not the organizational structure, was the culprit.  At the time, news analysts across the state described the audit as “scathing.”

So here we are in June of 2013.  Caltrans is front-page news because the replacement Bay Bridge span is years overdue and seriously over budget.  (Does anybody even remember that the reason for building the new span is that the old span is damaged and unsafe?).  The headlines are “Who Picked the Bad Bolts?”  The federal government is investigating California, the California legislature is investigating Caltrans, Caltrans is investigating vendors and other State agencies, and vendors are professing that all products were produced to the ordered specifications.  Although the bolts were made to spec (we hope; the jury is still out on this point), using them in this particular bridge design was inappropriate.

Eastern Span of Bay Bridge 2005
Photo: Wendy Rasmussen

The news reports of the multiplicity of investigations will drift off of the front page.  No little brain will be found, no ganglia identified.  Nothing will be revealed in real time.  The volume of decision nodes will hide all culpability.  The last report will be silence.



Editor’s Note:

The dinosaur which many of us know as Brontosaurus never really existed. The paleontologist who assembled the beast mistakenly placed the head of camarasaurus on the body of an apatosaurus. NPR has a fun story on this topic:

So does the UnMuseum



Pickering at AOAC International in Philadelphia

By Mike Gottschalk, Marketing Manager

It was the 125th Anniversary of the AOAC in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and this annual meeting was especially exciting with the anniversary celebrations.

At the Vendor exhibition we highlighted our Mycotoxin and GPC Sample-Cleanup products lines to expand our offering of the post-column derivatization products we are most known for.

The Scientific sessions also reflected growing interest in the analysis of Mycotoxins as well as Paralytic Shell Fish Toxins and a broad range of analytical instrumentation and techniques.

Dr. Pickering, Dr. Ofitserova, Dr. Nerkar, Dr. TormaWe brought a large contingency of personnel including Dr. Pickering, Dr. Ofitserova, Dr. Nerkar, Dr. Torma to accept the AOAC’s Single Laboratory Validation of the Year Award for our Multi-residue Mycotoxin Analysis. The paper, titled “Multi-residue Mycotoxin Analysis in Corn Grain by Column High-Performance Liquid Chromatography with Post-column Photochemical and Chemical Derivatization: Single-Laboratory Validation” was also published in the Journal of AOAC International Vol. 92, No. 1, 2009.

Photo: Michael, Maria, and Sareeta at AOAC