Moving Out of the Cell: Advantages of Cell-Free Protein Expression

Cell-free protein expression is a simplified and accelerated avenue for the transcription and/or translation of a specific protein in a quasi cell environment. An alternative to slower, more cumbersome cell-based methods, cell-free protein expression methods are simple and fast and can overcome toxicity and solubility issues sometimes experienced in the traditional E. coli expression systems.

Cell-free protein expression offers significant time savings over cell-based expression methods.

Cell-free protein expression offers significant time savings over cell-based expression methods.

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Magnetic Bacteria Carry Drugs into Tumors

cancer cellAt first glance, the biology of magnetic, underwater-dwelling, oxygen-averse bacteria may seem of little relevance to our most pressing human health problems. But science is full of surprises. A paper published this week in Nature Nanotechnology presents an inspired use of these bacteria to deliver anti-cancer drugs to tumors, specifically targeting the oxygen-starved regions generated by aggressively proliferating cells. Continue reading

The Scientific Case for Studying Chimeras

Chimera di Arezzo

Chimera di Arezzo was created by the Etruscans. Chimeras were established in mythology by Homer in Iliad as “a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire.” Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The definition of humanity is sacrosanct to many people. As science does, that line continues to blur. Stem cells have long been an ethical minefield for scientists to navigate for funding. Even something as common as an organ transplant was initially met with significant ethical concerns.

Most recently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has proposed changes to their policies controlling the funding for stem cell research creating human-animal chimeras. On the surface it may be hard for the general public to imagine that combining human and animal cells could result in anything other than mythical creatures of Homer’s Iliad. Human chimeras are much more common than one may believe, and the reason to allow studies on these models is to further our understanding of diseases and how to treat them. Continue reading

Seeing Science: Discovering What is Hidden in Plain Sight

Recently, I stumbled upon a few new discoveries that I would have guessed had already been figured out. These discoveries were surprising to me because they fell into the category of “obviously someone else knows this,” even though I didn’t—you know, the stuff you would just do a quick Google search to find out about.

29980708-August-10-blog-Darcia-FINAL-WEBAnyway, it made me reflect on the world we live in, filled with endless information. At times, it seems as if we know it all (at least all the obvious stuff), which can stifle discovery by limiting the sources from which we seek new information. It can appear futile to embark upon research in established fields. But sometimes discoveries occur when you look in familiar places from a new vantage point.

Today’s blog illustrates how seeing science in new ways can lead to this type of unexpected discovery.

Sometimes  seeing science is about how you are looking. 

The first discovery that got my attention was in an article that described the use of drones and Google Earth by archaeologists to discover a monument made of stone hidden below the sand at a World Heritage Site in Petra, Jordan. This is one of the most visited and well-studied archaeological sites in the world. Yet, a huge structure had remained undiscovered despite continual investigation of the site.

I imagine it would be like finding a new room in the house you’ve lived in your entire life. Applying new technology to see science in different ways expands the reach of archaeological discovery. This approach could open the door for remarkable discoveries in other scientific fields. Continue reading

ViaFect™ Reagent: Building Assays in Difficult Cells

The story of ViaFect begins with Promega Custom Assay Services (CAS), a group that uses Promega technologies to construct made-to-order assays, typically in a cell line. Many projects from the CAS group involve transfecting cells with expression vectors and reporter vectors. In some instances, customers contact CAS to have an assay constructed in a difficult cell line, after attempting and failing, or experiencing difficulty building the assay themselves.

CAS projects start with a proof-of-concept experiment using transient transfection before moving on to production of a clonal, stable cell line. For difficult cell lines, the CAS group previously turned to electroporation after exhausting lipid-based transfection options. Electroporation often worked, but success came with a price—cytotoxicity. The CAS group challenged R&D to find a better solution—better transfection with low toxicity for difficult-to-use cells. The result of that challenge is the ViaFect™ Transfection Reagent. Continue reading

An Epizootic for the Ages: Revisiting the White-Nose Syndrome Story

Map showing the spread of WNS across North America

Map showing the spread of WNS across North America

In March 2016, two hikers on a trail east of Seattle, WA, found a little brown bat lying on the ground in obviously poor condition. The bat was taken to an animal shelter where it died two days later from White-Nose Syndrome (WNS).

This bat was the first case of WNS found west of the Rocky Mountains. It represented a jump in the spread of WNS, and a troubling one. WNS was first detected in a cave in Albany, New York, and since then it has been moving slowly westward at a rate of about 200 miles per year, according to David Blehert of the United States Geological Survey, the laboratory that confirmed the WNS diagnosis for the Washington bat. Before this year’s discovery outside of Seattle, the westward-most case detected was in eastern Nebraska.

WNS, caused by a cold-loving fungus, Psuedogymnoascus destructans (Pd), can kill 100% of the hibernating bats in a colony, and in the ten years since it has been detected and monitored has killed over 6 million bats in the United States and Canada. As of July 2016, bats infected with the fungus have been found in 29 states and 5 Canadian provinces.

According to Blehert, this is probably the “most significant epizootic of wildlife” ever observed; never before have we seen hibernating mammals specifically affected by a skin fungus. What does that mean? Are we looking at extinction for some bat species? What are the ecological consequences of rapidly losing so many individuals to disease so quickly? And, what, if anything, can be done to combat the disease and help bat populations recover? Continue reading

Real Life Research Stories That Inspire

29980706-AugustBlog-QuestionThree weeks ago the journal Science ran a fascinating story about a young doctor fighting to cure his own rare and deadly disease. I clicked on the link to the article and was immediately drawn into the saga of David Fajgenbaum. The journalist, Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, tells the riveting account of Fajgenbaum who, in his third year of medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, learned that his organs were failing, quickly. His health had been deteriorating for a few weeks prior, and he knew something was seriously wrong. Yet as a medical student in the midst of his obstetrics-gynecology rotation, he had little time to focus on his own mysterious symptoms.

The story goes on to describe in detail how Fajgenbaum, now 31 years old, and his dedicated team of physicians continue to try to solve the mystery of his potentially fatal illness. The first time his liver, kidneys and bone marrow were found to be malfunctioning he landed in the ICU for nearly seven weeks. There he suffered a retinal hemorrhage that caused temporary blindness. But that was only the beginning. Continue reading

Summer in the Institute: A Photographic Journey

We’ve been enjoying a busy summer at the BTC Institute, and we’ve done our best to provide high quality educational experiences for everyone from third graders, to graduate students and post-docs, to seasoned high school teachers. To close our summer, on August 25th, we’ll be hosting the University of Wisconsin-Madison Neuroscience Research Symposium, in partnership with the Neuroscience Training Program.

Read about all of the exciting learning that went on at BTC Institute this summer, enjoy the pictures, and start planning for the summer of 2017!

A Celebration of Life XXI: Summer Science Programs

These programs,which are offered every summer for elementary (3-5th graders) and middle school (6-8th graders) students, are created in partnership with the African American Ethnic Academy and with grant support from the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium/NASA. This year the elementary program served 15 students and the middle school program 17 students.

Instructional methods emphasize active learning around planet earth and the solar system. Hands-on laboratory activities related to planets, gravity, requirements for living systems. Students participated in outside activities and a field trip to the Milwaukee Museum. They studied current NASA projects related to planetary science, including the search for life and water on other planets. They also learned about historic and contemporary African American STEM professionals, including those affiliated with NASA, and they explored planetary science careers. Each session closed with students sharing their work with family members and friends, followed by informal conversations over lunch.



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Addressing the Sexual Assault Kit Backlog: Defining the Problem, Creating Solutions

general tweet from USA article

This post was contributed by  guest blogger Tara Luther in the Genetic Identity group at Promega.

In July 2015, USA Today formed a partnership with journalists from over 75 Gannett-owned newspapers and TEGNA television stations to “perform the most detailed nationwide inventory of untested rape kits ever.” This article told the stories of rape victims who had lost hope of seeing the perpetrators of their assaults ever being brought to justice, even though DNA evidence was collected at the crime and was waiting to be analyzed.

The journalists working on this story uncovered more than 70,000 neglected rape kits in an open-records campaign that covered more than 1,000 police agencies. The story notes that “despite its scope, the agency-by-agency count cover[ed] a fraction of the nation’s 18,000 police departments, suggesting the number of untested rape kits reach[ed] into the hundreds of thousands.”

tweet 3The USA Today effort led not only to national reporting but also to many local stories as well. is a program sponsored by the Joyful Heart Foundation aimed at getting policy makers and prosecutors to address the large numbers of untested rape kits in the United States. They hope by researching to identify the extent of the backlog and publicizing that research they will begin a dialog at local, state and national levels that will lead to solutions for addressing it. The USA Today story and local stories have grown out of their efforts to call attention to this problem. Continue reading

Easy Automated Genomic DNA Isolation for GMO Testing: From Vision to Reality

29980616-July25-PureFood---Kelly-600x300The European Union (EU) has a zero tolerance policy for products containing any material from non-authorized genetically modified (GM) crops. Seed entering EU markets may not contain even trace amounts of non-authorized genetically modified material. In 2012, as the global use of GM crops increased, seed testing loads in the EU continued to build. Isolating genomic DNA (gDNA) using traditional manual methods was becoming impractical in the face of increasing amounts of material that required testing. There was a growing need for an automated method to isolate gDNA from seed samples. Working to address this need, a group of scientists from the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority collaborated with scientists from Promega Corporation to evaluate the Maxwell® 16 Instrument and the associated chemistry as possible a solution for the testing labs. Continue reading