From Whence You Came, Honey Bee?

Apis melliferaWestern honey bee. By Ivar Leidus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Apis mellifera Western honey bee. By Ivar Leidus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As a new beekeeper, I never really considered much about the origins of honey bees. I knew they were not native to the United States, most are from Europe and the ones that sting in a swarm are called Africanized. Local beekeepers talk about ordering Italians or Carniolans to populate hives, and during a recent local beekeeper’s association presentation, Asian honey bees were mentioned. From where Apis mellifera, the Western honey bee arose, I did not know.

As it turns out, the origin of honey bees is a highly debated topic. Some say they arose from Asia; others say Africa. Recently, researchers from the University of California—Davis used short nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and two sets of previously published whole genome data, included additional sequenced genomes and applied multiple computational methods to analyze honey bee population genetics. They published their conclusions in Genome Biology and Evolution. Continue reading

Restoring Memory in Alzheimer’s Mice with Microbubbles and Ultrasound

Neurons with amyloid plaques.

Neurons with amyloid plaques.

Imagine driving in your car and suddenly not recognizing where you, you don’t remember where you were going and have no idea how to find your way home. What if you looked across the breakfast table at your spouse and no longer recognizing them?  Or maybe you have to brace yourself every time you visit your parent, waiting for the day when they won’t know who you are. This is reality for the estimated 50 million (worldwide) Alzheimer’s suffers and their families.

For a world with an aging population, Alzheimer’s is a growing problem. Recent estimates suggest that 11% of people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease. For people 85 and older, that number increases to 32% (1).

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating degenerative brain disease. It is the most common cause of dementia, and is characterized by a decline in cognitive skills such as memory, language skills, communication and problem solving abilities. These symptoms make it difficult for people with Alzheimer’s to perform everyday activities. It also is difficult to diagnose, even more difficult to treat, and, as of now, impossible to cure. Continue reading

On the Road with the Biotechnology Field Trips Program

BFT-aThe On the Road (OTR) BTC Institute Biotechnology Field Trips (BFT) program is rolling right along!  We are doing our best to brave the winter weather to take hands-on science activities all over the state of Wisconsin.

The BTC Institute BFT program served over 3,400 students last year, most of them here at the BTC in Fitchburg.  That said, each year the OTR part of the program is growing in order to serve schools that cannot travel here for various reasons, such as distance, bus costs and the need to minimize out of school time. Continue reading

Familial Searching Solves Cold Cases—At What Cost?

A cold case that had stumped investigators for nearly 41 years was solved last month. The 1976 sexual assault and murder of Karen Klass, ex-wife of Righteous Brother’s singer Bill Medley, shocked her Hermosa Beach, CA community and captured the public interest. Failing to make any arrests for decades, detectives were able to use DNA evidence to eliminate suspects in 1999 but were unable to find a database match. In 2011, investigators decided to try a new technique called a familial search and, after a few attempts, successfully identified the perpetrator.

Familial searching (FS) involves taking a DNA profile obtained from a crime scene and comparing it to profiles in CODIS and other databases to identify male relatives. The DNA profile of an immediate family member, such as a sibling, parent or child, can provide a match that generates new leads for law enforcement. Detectives can then collect additional evidence to narrow down that new pool of individuals to a single suspect.DNA-Handcuffs-double-exposure-R2

Last May I wrote a blog featuring a Q & A about FS provided by Mr. Rockne Harmon, a respected member of the forensic community and passionate advocate for FS. Supporters, like Harmon, and opponents agree that this method of obtaining matches to DNA evidence has demonstrated scientific precision and successful outcomes, as in the Klass case. However, it is still considered controversial and most states have not implemented specific policies regarding the application of FS to criminal investigations. So why isn’t the use of FS more widespread?

Continue reading

Gut Microbes and Hypertension: Demonstrating a Causal Link

Most of us are aware that the human body is covered by and full of microorganisms. And we understand that most of these microorganisms are helpful, both in terms of competition with and protection against invading microorganisms, and in the gut, as agents of digestion.

Bacillus subtilis, an example of Firmicutes, and not a good gut microbe. By Y tambe (original uploader) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49528

Bacillus subtilis, an example of Firmicutes, and not a good gut microbe. By Y tambe (original uploader) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49528

In the past decade, however, research has brought compelling details implicating gut microbes in obesity, cancer, insulin resistance and such central nervous system disorders as depression, austism spectrum disorder and multiple sclerosis (Adnan, S. et al.). Yet the mechanisms and details of these associations have not been fully demonstrated.

Gut bacteria have been proven to be connected to thickening of heart vasculature, known as atherosclerosis. Researchers have demonstrated that bacteria metabolize choline and L-carnitine from food to trimethylamine, which crosses the gut barrier into circulation and reaches the liver. In the liver, trimethylamine is metabolized to the atherogenic molecule triethylamine-N-oxide (Gregory, J.C. et al., Brown and Hazen). These studies are among the few that provide a direct connection between gut microbes and a pathological condition. Continue reading

Writing Scientific Papers: Is There More To This Story?

The tactic of “telling a good story” is nothing new within the business of selling, marketing and even educating about science. The word itself, science & storytelling“storytelling,” achieved buzzword status a few years ago in the corporate world, so it’s no surprise that it now touches industry scientists.  But the importance of telling a good story within the realm of scientific peer-reviewed papers?  That is something new, and it may impact how scientists write up their results from this point forward.

In a provocative scientific study published in PLOS ONE in December 2016, researchers from the University of Washington showed that “Narrative Style Influences Citation Frequency in Climate Change Science.” Perhaps the results they report are unique to climate change science—an area of science especially susceptible to public perception. But then again, perhaps not. This paper may be worth considering no matter what field of science you call your own.

The authors—Ann Hillier, Ryan Kelly, and Terrie Klinger—used metrics to test their hypothesis that a more narrative style of writing in climate change research papers is more likely to be influential, and they used citation frequency as their measure of influence. A sample of 732 abstracts culled from the climate change literature and published between 2009 and 2010 was analyzed for specific writing parameters. The authors concluded that writing in a more narrative style increases the uptake and influence of articles in this field of science and perhaps in scientific literature across the board. Continue reading

Travelogue Galapagos Part II: An Incredible Experience in Paradise

In 2014, Promega created a special incentive to reward field science consultants who help the scientific community take advantage of our on-site stocking program. The winners had to meet ambitious criteria to receive 2 round-trip tickets to anywhere in the world, a week of paid vacation and spending money. Our four winners will share photos and stories about their journeys on the Promega Connections Blog.

Today’s travelogue is Part II of the adventures of Amy Parman, a regional sales manager, who used her award to travel to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Day 7: Urbina Bay, Isabela Island & Punta Mangle, Fernandina Island – Today was another early morning wake up, this time to the soothing strains of Journey. We had a quick breakfast and jumped in the dinghy for an exploratory ride. We passed a tree full of so many pelicans covering the branches that they looked as though they could be fruit, ripe for the picking. Our dinghy slowly passed many more sea turtles, golden cownose rays, small eagle rays, marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs (stunningly red against the black lava).

We also came across several sea lions sleeping away the morning in a comfy mangrove branch bed. More striated herons were perched in the mangroves hunting fish below and three playful sea lion pups swam right up to our feet dangling over the dinghy as if to say, “jump out and play with us.” Bayron said they are likely around ten months old and their mother has left them in the protected bay while she goes out to fish.

32178451-dec-12-part-two-image-2-600x400-web

Sea lion pup in Urbina Bay, Isabela Island.

After the ride, we had a chance to snorkel for a couple of hours and did, in fact, swim right along with a very fast and playful sea lion. The sea lions were pretty big, and seemed even more so when we were in the water with them. It was quite the experience to have him dart all around us while we swam. Marine iguanas were also swimming with us and clinging to the lava eating seaweed off the rocks about eight feet deep. There were loads of fish all around and by now we’ve had a few shark sightings among the group. Interestingly, the shark species around the Galapagos, while numerous, do not regard humans as a food source. It has become a tour goal to find as many as we can and, while a challenge, we do catch glimpses of the hammerheads and reef sharks that are never too far away. Continue reading

Promega Employees Find Their Muse in Company Band

Becky Guy (keyboard), Randy  Dimond (left), Eric Vincent (Trombone) play for the Promega Employee Recognition Meeting as part of Lead Generation.

Becky Guy (keyboard), Randy Dimond (left), Eric Vincent (Trombone) play for the Promega Employee Recognition Meeting as part of Lead Generation.

Musicians wait onstage as the sound tech adjusts the cables around them. He signals “OK” and runs back through the seats of the empty auditorium to the mixing board. The musicians all dressed in black, instruments in hand, prepare to play. Four sharp whacks from the drummer’s sticks and music fills the space. Horns, keyboards, electric guitar, bass, and harmonica back singers as they belt out the upbeat earworm Drive It Like You Stole It. They sound great and make it look pretty effortless too, which is why it’s hard to believe these “rock stars” are also scientists, marketers, IT specialists, lawyers, you name it, who make up the Promega employee band, Lead Generation. (Thank marketing for the name.)

“Lead Generation is just one of the many opportunities at Promega that make it truly unique,” says Kris Zimmerman, a research scientist who sings and plays trumpet with the band. “Any kind of expression of creativity can help you to have different perspectives and be a better problem solver. Fostering an environment where collaboration and creativity are rewarded really helps to create a sense of belonging, and creates a vibe of excitement that you don’t find just anywhere. Plus how cool is it to tell people that you play in a band? At work?”

Continue reading

Meet Brian Hayman, Program Manager on the Spectrum Team

29160613_lPromega will introduce the Spectrum CE System for forensic and paternity analysis. Building this system requires the efforts of many people from many disciplines–from our customers who have told us their needs to the engineers and scientists building the instrument and ensuring its performance. Periodically we will introduce our Promega Connections readers to a team member so that you can have a sneak peak and behind-the-scenes look at Spectrum CE System  and the people who are creating it (of course if you truly want to be the first to know, sign up at www.promega.com/spectrum to receive regular, exclusive updates about Spectrum CE).

Today we introduce Brian Hayman, Program Manager. Continue reading

Taking a Second Look at Flexible Spending Accounts

22722908 - blue piggy bank with stethoscope for check your financeAre you looking for a way to save money on those need-to-have items that you buy throughout the year?  You know, not fun items or cool clothing, but rather those medical expenses that have a way of draining your wallet?  Have you ever considered using a medical Flexible Spending Account (FSA)?  Flexible Spending Accounts have been around for over 50 years, initially created in the 1970’s by the Internal Revenue Service as a solution to the addition of deductibles and elimination of dental and vision insurance by many employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The expenses that insurance didn’t cover – but employees still experienced – were given a tax-free pass by the IRS up to an annual limit.

Over the years the accounts have gone through many changes:  adding the convenience of debit-card access, on-line claims submission services, increases in the annual limits, and elimination of many over-the counter expenses as eligible.  So how do you know what you can and cannot use the account for, and is it really worth the hassle of claims submission? Continue reading