March for Science—Every Day

Kindergarten teacher and children looking at bird's nest in librEarth Day, April 22, saw one of many of the marches on Washington, D.C. that 2017 has produced: The March for Science.

A march is a shout, a “Hey, over here, you need to hear this” one-time event. It is not a conversation. It really isn’t even action. It’s a start that requires follow up.

But how do you follow up a massive, organized march that happened across the globe? Consider following it up with little things, at every opportunity:

First, say “yes” to opportunities to be an ambassador for science. Continue reading

A Cold Case, A Mystery, and DNA

“How do you like the name Jack?” the woman on the phone asked.

41731849 - soft focus and blurry of baby hands vintage style color effectOn April 26, 1964, a nurse came into the hospital room of Dora Fronczak, who had just given birth to her young son, Paul. She told Mrs. Fronczak that it was time to take the baby to the nursery (at that time newborns did not stay in the room with the moms), took the baby, and left. A few hours later, another nurse came into the room to take young Paul to the nursery. It was then that everyone realized a mother’s worst fear: Her infant had been stolen.

Authorities were able to determine how the woman left the hospital and that she got into a cab, but they were never able to find the woman. However in 1965, a small toddler-aged boy was found, abandoned outside a store in New Jersey. Blood tests were not inconsistent with him being Paul Fronczak (DNA testing was not available), and there were no other missing children cases in the area that were matches. The little boy was sent to Chicago as Paul Fronczak and the case was closed.

However, as an adult Paul Fronczak, began to suspect that the couple who raised him were not his biological parents, and in 2012 Paul underwent DNA analysis to test his suspicions. The results showed that indeed, he was not the biological son of Dora and Chester Fronczak. His next step was to enlist the help of a genetic genealogist to assist him in finding his true biological parents and his identity.

By conducting “familial searches” using commercially available DNA databases like 23andMe and AncestryDNA and many resources, the genealogist’s group found a match to his DNA on the east coast. Further ground work, discovered that this family was indeed Paul’s…now Jack.

The knowledge of Jack’s true identity, didn’t bring with it a joyous union of the adoptive family who had raised and loved Jack (as Paul) with the biological family who had pined for him over the years as many might imagine. Continue reading

Calling All Science PUNdits

As the point of contact for our social media efforts at Promega, I spend a lot of time scanning science-related Twitter, Facebook, Instagram media accounts. There are some science channel managers who do a great job of bringing delight to their followers. Those managers use their platforms to educate—I follow them because they constantly amaze me with new things. I find information that is useful, fun and makes me think “wow, that is interesting.” On my favorite accounts, that new learning comes along with a wry sense of humor, and some of my favorite social media channels are ones that not only teach me new things but do it with a little fun on the side—often in the form of bad science puns.

Promega has the privilege of sponsoring the Cool Science Image contest run by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Just recently @UWMadScience tweeted about the deadline for the contest, tagging @promega in the tweet. Their tweet included a visual science pun which was not lost on their fellow campus account managers:


That pun started a chain reaction among the other UW accounts that follow @UWMadScience: 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

Deciding What to Share: Evaluating Content in a Self-Publishing World

A BuzzFeed News analysis of “news” stories during the final three months of the 2016 US presidential campaign revealed that on Facebook, the 20 top-performing fake-news stories from hoax sites and hyper partisan blogs generated 8,711,000 instances of engagement (shares, reactions, or comments) while the 20 top-performing stories from news web sites generated 7,367,000 instances of engagement (1). Basically fake news generated 1.5 million more responses than real news.

This is particularly concerning given that a Pew Research study from July 2016 indicated that 63% of Americans say that family and friends are an important way they get news—they get their news from their social networks (online or offline) rather than from vetted broadcast or print media (2), and 54% of people asked in this same study responded that they “sometimes” or “often” received news from social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

I too must confess that quite often it’s a tweet or a Facebook post that alerts me to a news story or world event. Often it’s even a tweet or a post that leads me to the latest science news. I can’t remember the last time I deliberately watched the 6:00 news, though it was a staple in my house when I was growing up.

So what does all of this mean for science communication, science literacy and a basic understanding of what is really going on in the world? Continue reading

From Napkin Sketch to “Custom Kit”: CloneWeaver® Workflow Builder Gets Your Cloning Organized

20161018_150403Let’s face it, most lab techs and purchasing agents aren’t all that happy when you send them an Instagram picture of your latest lunchroom-napkin cloning strategy as your order form for your next big cloning experiment. So we have created the CloneWeaver® Workflow Builder. You can transfer your brilliance easily from that lunchroom napkin to an orderly email or print out of every vector, enzyme, purification kit, and transfection reagent your next big molecular cloning experiment requires. You can even save your one-of-a-kind “cloning kit” for future endeavors.

The CloneWeaver® tool will walk you through every step of the molecular cloning process from selecting a vector to finding a transfection reagent for mammalian cells. So if you are starting a new project, we are with you every step of the way. We will help you find restriction enzymes and even remind you about markers and biochemicals that you may want to have on hand for your experiment. Within the tool we have links to additional resources like our RE Tool and catalog pages if you need more help.

clone_weaverAlready have a favorite vector and a freezer full of restriction enzymes? No problem, skip those steps and move on to getting the perfectly sized nucleic acid markers or the particular polymerase your experiment requires.

Are you teaching a molecular genetics course? CloneWeaver® workflow builder is perfect for creating the list of laboratory reagents you are going to need for your students—and you will have this same list as a starting point for other lab experiments or classes later on because you can save the lists that you build. You can even pass them along to other professors.

So, if molecular cloning is in your future, let us help you get organized. Try the CloneWeaver® Workflow Builder.

A Very Happy and BATTY Halloween

Crowds gather on the Congress Ave Bridge in Austin, TX to see the bat colonly.

Crowds gather on the Congress Ave Bridge in Austin, TX to see the bat colony.

My colleagues in the scientific communications group at Promega are pretty sure that I have bats in my belfry. And, they may be right. After all I have written extensively and repeatedly about bats in North America and the threat that they are facing from White Nose Syndrome, the devastating disease caused by a cold-loving fungus (you can read my last post here). And, just last week I skipped an awesome party on Rainey Street in Austin, TX, to instead hang out by the Congress Ave bridge in hopes of seeing the urban bats fly.

But just in time for the annual Promega Connections Halloween blog, I stumbled across some good news for our distant mammalian cousins. Continue reading

Back to Basics: Organizing Your Writing like It’s a Hamburger

The "hamburger" scheme for organizing a paragraph.

The “hamburger” scheme for organizing a paragraph.

Last night I was helping my daughter, who is in fourth grade, with her homework. We had completed a math worksheet, a geography worksheet and had moved onto writing. For her paragraph assignment, she was supposed to write about a special place. So I began drawing the concept map that we typically use to help her organize her thoughts. She stopped me before I could get started.

“No Mom, wait,” she grabbed the pencil and paper from my hands, “I have a better idea.”

She drew five shapes on the paper.

“We should write the paragraph like it’s a hamburger. The first sentence is the topic—it’s the top of the burger, tells you what is inside—it makes you hungry to read more. Next comes the juicy, meaty part. Three details—three sentences. Then the bottom bun, the summary that supports the whole paragraph. It’s the hardest to write.” She proudly sat down with her drawing and pencil.

“I LOVE that,” I exclaimed. “That’s a great way to organize a paragraph.”

“Yeah,” my husband looked up from his Suduko that he had been working on, “and the cheese goes right here.” He pointed to one of the three boxes my daughter had drawn underneath the bun.

“And the lettuce over here,” my daughter giggled.

“Well, I like mine with lettuce and tomato,” I chanted with no apologies to Jimmy Buffett, “Heinz 57 and French-fried potato..,”

“A big kosher pickle,” my daughter joined in, and the evening’s homework activities degenerated from there. (Sometimes it’s the parents who are easily distracted.)

My daughter’s hamburger graphic was new to me, but the concept wasn’t. It is a solid method for organizing a piece of writing, and it can be applied all kinds of writing—from a paragraph, to an essay, to a speech and even to a scientific article. Continue reading

Almost As Good As the Expert Down the Hall: The Citations Database

database_1When you are faced with a new research challenge or are troubleshooting in the lab, nothing replaces the wisdom of the lab tech down the hall who has 20 years experience doing the very technique you need to try.

But, sometimes there isn’t a local expert handy.

The Citations Database on the Promega website provides another source of expertise for you. We curate peer-reviewed publications that cite the use of Promega products so that you can see what people have done and how they have done it. We include links to PubMed for articles that are in indexed journals, and we also include brief notes about how the Promega products were used in the research.

Whether you are working with a new sample type, troubleshooting nucleic acid isolation, or trying a completely new assay, see how the Citations Database can help you in the laboratory. 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