I'm staring down the eyepiece of a microscope at a tangled but orderly mass of cells, moving the stage past the mucoid connective tissue to examine the concentric circles of a placental vein. All in all, it's a fairly normal activity for a biologist except that the sample I'm examining is a cross-section of my own umbilicus. Not "my own" as in "I purchased it from a biological supply company," but as in "these are actually the freaking cells that connected me to my mother 32 years ago."
At the time I was born, my mother worked in an anatomy lab at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The control of biological material must have been a bit more lax in the late 1970s (maybe cautiousness inversely correlates with lapel width), because she was somehow able to sneak a piece of my (our) umbilical cord to her lab microtome, where she carved two thin sections and mounted them on glass slides, just for fun. Perhaps it was Bring an Unsanitary Piece of Your Child to Work Day. Five presidential administrations later, in a different biology lab in a different city, I'm photographing the cells -- because it might be neat to put the pictures on Facebook -- and expecting my own first child.
The obvious question (besides "How would you tag your umbilicus on Facebook?") is, “What sort of parent would prepare such a specimen, much less save it for 3 decades?” And the answer is, a scientist.
Adam Ruben, Ph.D.,