More Than Just a Belt—The Benefits of Practicing Martial Arts

Two years ago my, then ten-year-old, daughter and I started a journey together. We joined a local dojo (karate school). At the time my daughter was still looking for ‘her’ activity, and after trying both girl scouts and 4H as well as several intramural sports, I reached back into her early childhood when she had enjoyed participating in karate classes as a three and four year old. I was hoping to find an activity that we could share (much as her brother and father share camping and outings with Boy Scouts) that we would both find challenging and enjoyable—and maybe part of me had secretly always wanted to be a ninja.

A number of friends, family and even acquaintances have expressed surprise that this was the activity that my daughter and I settled on, or more specifically, that I was taking up karate as an adult. We tend to associate karate with classes of kids in white gis, or with high-intensity, high-level competitive martial artists, which we typically think of as male. But this is not a “kid only” or “male only” sport. According to the New York City-based research firm, Simmons Market Research, over 18.1 million Americans participated in karate or some other form of martial art at least once, and roughly 9.4 million were adults. The study also found that gender is pretty evenly split between men (52%) and women (48%). Karate is popular globally, with an estimated 50 to 100 million practitioners worldwide (Japan web and World Karate Federation, respectively), and was one of five new sports added to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

karate girl in mirrorMartial Arts Improves Physical and Cognitive Performance in Youth

It is easy to find the reasons why people enroll their children in martial arts training. Participation in karate has been shown to improve physical performance in children and young adults as measured by such things as better coordination, reaction speed time, explosive leg strength and muscle endurance (1, 2). At the same time, children participating in karate also score better than their peers on executive functions, working memory and visual selective attention (1). Karate has also shown promise in helping with behavior issues by improving self-regulation and executive function (3).

When you look at the literature, though, it is clear that the benefits of martial arts such as karate are not limited to children and teens. Continue reading

Cell Free Expression Application: In vitro degradation assay

A protein chain being produced from a ribosome.

A protein chain being produced from a ribosome.

Researchers and clinicians are fairly certain that all cervical cancers are caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infections, and that HPV16 and HPV18 are responsible for about 70% of all cases. HPV16 and HPV18 have also been shown to cause almost half the vaginal, vulvar, and penile cancers, while about 85% of anal cancers are also caused by HPV16.

E6 is a potent oncogene of HR-HPVs, and its role in progression to malignancy continues to be explored. The E6 oncoprotein of HPV can promote viral DNA replication through several pathways. It forms a complex with human E3-ubiquitin ligase E6-associated protein (E6AP), which can in turn target the p53 tumor-suppressor protein, leading to its ubiquitin-mediated degradation. In particular, E6 from HR-HPVs can block apoptosis, activate telomerase, disrupt cell adhesion, polarity and epithelial differentiation, alter transcription and G-protein signaling, and reduce immune recognition of HPV-infected cells.

In a recent publication a new procedure generated a stable, unmutated HPV16 E6 protein (1). Continue reading

Weaving Tangled Webs with Cell-Free DNA

The ability to isolate and assay circulating cell-free DNA from plasma holds promise for improved diagnostics and treatment in the clinic. The use of blood-based non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) has been well described. Such testing is based on circulating cell-free fetal DNA in blood of a pregnant woman for diagnosis and screening  of chromosomal anueploidy (e.g. Trisomy 21, Down Syndrome), sex-linked diseases, and genetic diseases that are known to result from a specific mutation in a single gene (1). Additionally, most cancers carry somatic mutations that are unique to the tumors, and dying tumor cells release small pieces of their DNA into the blood stream (2). This circulating cell-free tumor DNA can be used as a biomarker to “follow” cancer progression or regression during treatment, and diagnostic methods also are being developed to detect even early stage cancers from circulating tumor DNA (3). Further, increases in circulating cell-free DNA have been well documented after intense exercise, trauma, sepsis and even associated with autoimmune diseases such as system lupus erythematosus (SLE; 1,4). In these latter examples increases in extracellular DNA are associated with evolutionarily conserved innate immune responses involving the production of neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). Monitoring the circulating cell-free DNA of NETs has implications for treatment and diagnosis of autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular events and traumatic injuries (4–7).

How Neutrophils Weave a Defensive Web

Blood smear showing two prominent neutrophils in the field of view

Blood smear showing two prominent neutrophils in the field of view

Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cell and are part of the innate immune response, participating in non-specific immune responses to injury or pathogens. They are one of three types of granuolcytes, and can be recognized by their multi-lobed nucleus and the prominent granules that fill their cytoplasm. Generally they are first to the scene of injury or infection. Early in my scientific career, I was taught that neutrophils fought disease via phagocytosis and occasionally by firing a barrage of toxic enzymes and molecules at invaders. Mostly though they released cytokines that recruited the “important” cells of the specific immune system to the area.

For these reasons, I never really thought much about neutrophils. That is until recently, when I learned about Neutrophil Extracellular Traps (NETs). It turns out that neutrophils are pretty awesome, sacrificing themselves in a cloud-like explosion of DNA, chromatin, and granule proteins Continue reading

Did Dinosaurs Take Too Long to Hatch?

A new approach to dinosaur embryology has revealed another layer to our understanding of the demise of dinosaurs and rise of mammals as a result of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event. In a recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper, a group of researchers led by Gregory Erickson hypothesized that dinosaur eggs may have growth lines present on embryonic teeth that could be used to determine incubation times.

dinosaur-embryoNot much is understood about dinosaur embryology, aside from what is known about birds. This is in part because fossils of dinosaur eggs, especially those containing embryonic skeletons, are among the rarest in the world. Despite this difficulty, using these fossils to refine estimated incubation times of dinosaur embryos can shed light on their development, life history and evolution.

Historically, paleontologists have assumed that dinosaur incubation periods were rapid based on their extant counterparts, birds. Considered living dinosaurs, birds are a logical surrogate from which to extrapolate dinosaur incubation times. It is important to note that embryonic incubation in birds is different from other living relatives of dinosaurs, modern reptiles. While reptile embryos develop slowly, birds differ by laying fewer, larger eggs with rapid incubation. Continue reading

Sitting on the Moon

Today’s blog is from BTCI Instructor and guest blogger Jackie Mosher.

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. —Norman Vincent Peale

mosher_a_editThis motivational quote has echoed throughout my life from childhood.  It has inspired me to be fearless in dreaming, to be ambitious and to reach for those goals without fearing failure. So, naturally at the ripe age of 10, my goal was to become a scientist and discover a cure to both AIDS and cancer with a secondary plan of becoming this nation’s first female President. However, as I grew older, I realized my genuine interest and excitement for science and that I enjoyed not only learning about various scientific concepts but also sharing this information with others. Therefore, I completed a Bachelor’s of Science degree with a major in Molecular Biology and minor in Chemistry and decided to continue my studies as a graduate student at UW-Madison in the Cancer Biology graduate program.  My goal was to graduate and aid in disseminating scientific knowledge.

Why teach and not become a scientist? 

Continue reading

Reflections on My Path from Academia to Industry

My career took a different direction than what I had envisioned in grad school, and that was a good thing.

My career took a different direction than what I had envisioned in grad school, and that was a good thing.

About a year ago, I made the move from academic research to the biotech industry. Leaving academia seemed like a huge risk to take, but it was a positive career change that I only recently realized was a long time in the making.

Before joining Promega, I was a post-doc at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. I worked on these fascinating enzymes that add nucleotides to the 3ʹ ends of RNAs, developed a Next-Gen Sequencing assay to measure their activities, discovered a bizarre and novel activity of one of the enzymes, and wrote a patent application.

I love science. Being immersed in a tough problem in the lab and then working as hard as I possibly can to solve it is so rewarding and satisfying to me! I really enjoyed my research project, but I found myself interested in a variety of other science topics. The thought of having my own lab where I worked on the same types of enzymes for 30+ years made me anxious. Why did I feel that way? I attributed it to apprehension of the hard work it would take to establish a lab and get tenure.

Meanwhile, at UW–Madison, we had begun a campus-wide discussion to brainstorm about solutions for sustaining the biomedical research enterprise in the US. I attended almost every meeting and, overall, was left with an ominous feeling. Many scientists clearly loved their work but were frustrated and discouraged by the prospect of losing (or never getting) funding. Is this what I really wanted? I reminded myself of my enthusiasm for science and convinced myself it would be worth it once I had a lab up and running and was mentoring my own students. Continue reading

Top Science Books of 2016

While I planned to write about New Year’s resolutions for the first Promega Connections blog of 2017, I was sidetracked by some “best of 2016” lists—in particular, best science books. I realized though that these seemingly unrelated ideas overlapped at some level because every year I resolve to find time to read more books. What was once an easy and natural escape for me, like for so many others, reading for fun now requires a bit of effort and prioritization. With the continual distractions of Netflix, social media and online news stories, it’s a challenge to find time to read books the way I once did.

So, in honor of a new year’s resolution do more of what I like and less of what I don’t like, here is a list of what has been deemed the best science books of 2016. I culled through the lists of several of the most reputable science blogs and publications and looked for overlap among them. Between the Science Friday blog, New York Magazine’s blog, The Science of Us, Smithsonian Magazine, NPR, and the New York Times’ best of 2016 lists there are loads of suggestions to keep you reading until the start of the next decade. Below are eight recommendations that appeared on several “best of” lists. Continue reading

Plumage Revealed: A 99 Million Year Old Feathered Coelurosaur Tail Trapped in Amber

Touching a Dinosaur—Almost

Imagine holding a 99 million year old feathered dinosaur tail in the palm of your hand. The only thing keeping you from actually touching its feathers? A few centimeters of petrified resin. This was reality for the group of scientists who published their findings about this discovery in the December issue of Current Biology (1).

It all began roughly ninety-nine million years ago when a young coelurosaur met an untimely death. Continue reading

It must be Christmas, the BMJ is funny

Every year the British Medical Journal publishes a Christmas edition—a delightful confection of whimsical articles that apply the rigor of the scientific method to such topics as “The survival time of chocolates on hospital wards” or “Dispelling the nice or naughty myth—A retrospective observational study of Santa Claus”.  Much of the delight of these articles is in the details of the tongue-in-cheek tone, the accompanying figures, traditionally crafted methods sections and satisfyingly obvious conclusions. For example, did you know that “sleep deprived people appear less healthy, less attractive, and more tired compared with when they are well rested”, or that the “survival time of a chocolate on a hospital ward is short, at under an hour, and that the initial rate of chocolate consumption from a box is rapid but slows with time”? (It’s those hard ones no-one likes that are left at the end.)

Last week saw the publication of the 2016 BMJ Christmas edition featuring such topics as the effect of Pokémon GO on physical activity among young adults (short term value), and “Open toe Sandals Syndrome”—a study attempting to answer the question “Is fear of summer foot exposure contributing to the workload of mycology labs?” Continue reading

Meet Lisa Misner, Technical Support and Training Specialist 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 to receive regular, exclusive updates about Spectrum CE).

Today we introduce Lisa Misner, Technical Support and Training Specialist. Continue reading