Gong Gong says

This is a posthumous blog of our father's (Lim Kok Ann) life. When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography. We'd like to celebrate his life by sharing his autobiography through this blog.

"I have dredged these anecdotes from memory just to pass the time; if they amuse my grandchildren their purpose will have been served; if they provide any instruction, it will be a happy coincidence; that they are disjointed is probably to be expected.

Aurora was the name of my grandfather’s house in Kulangsu.   Amoy, where I spent the first five or six years of my life.   I still have vivid memories of events that took place when I was barely three years old.

Lim Kok Ann
October 1996"

Saturday, November 15, 2008

3:9 Down Under

In the summer of 1956 I took two months leave to visit the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne. The University then allowed a staff member to be absent from his department during the university vacation so long as he occupied his time usefully and caused the University no expense. Hale was impressed, perhaps, that I had the entree to the laboratory of MacFarlane Burnet, a Nobel Prize winner, and made no objections. On the way to Melbourne I stopped in Sydney to call on C.J.S. Purdy, the leading Australian chess player and author. The strong rivalry between Sydney (even before the Opera House was built) and Melbourne was illustrated by the following experience I had: when I told some Sydney chess players that I was on the way to Melbourne, they cried out, “O, bad luck!” Later, when I told Melbourne people that I had been in Sydney, they also cried, “Bad luck!”

Two months was too short a time in which to do any project so Burnet asked me to work with Dr. Eric French (a PhD) who was studying a recent out-break of influenza. He was also using HI tests similar to what Marge Edney had been doing in London and I was quite proud to show off my Z-chart which Dr. French had not yet adopted. French had in cold storage a number of serum samples that he collected in the epidemic and set me to testing them for influenza antibodies. He also had in the freezer some throat swabs from patients from which he wanted to isolate influenza viruses by a method that I had not seen in the UCHMS. This method involved the inoculation of patients’ materials into the amniotic cavity.

Note: A chick embryo begins life as a dot on the surface of the egg yolk. As the embryo grows it surrounds itself with the amniotic membrane which makes a bag connecting directly with the respiratory tract of the embryo. By the 8th day, when the embryo is about a centimetre long another membrane called the allantoic membrane has formed which grows under the shell membrane to enable the embryo to ‘breathe’. Influenza viruses grow well in both the amniotic and the allantoic cavities. By the 14th day the lungs of the embryo are well developed and support the growth of influenza viruses very well, especially from human materials. Allantoic inoculation yields virus in 4 to 5 days, amniotic inoculation in 2 to 3 days.

Marge had gone back to her old project of analysing influenza variants and was busy inoculating dozens of eggs daily and harvesting the virus in large volumes. We only met briefly at tea-breaks, quite a important feature of the laboratory routine. What I wanted to learn was not only new techniques, but also to meet people and to get the feel of how they worked. This was what the tea-breaks were for!


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