Exploring the Virtual iGEM Giant Jamboree with iGEM Concordia

Today’s guest blog about the 2020 virtual iGEM Giant Jamboree is written by Lancia Lefebvre, Team Leader of iGEM Concordia.

AstroBio database for differential gene expression

After a year of full-time work, I joined our team of 16 undergraduate students to live-stream the virtual iGEM Giant Jamboree from the isolation of our respective apartments. Together in a separate zoom call and Facebook chat, we fired off messages as awards were announced. ‘OMG Toulouse won best poster! Did you see Aachen’s project?’ Then came the Software Track award, our track, and boom! “Concordia-Montreal are the Software Track Winners for iGEM Giant Jamboree 2020!”

Firework and heart emojis exploded in our chat and on my zoom call, mouths gaped in shock and pride. Our AstroBio database for differential gene expression in microgravity conditions had won! Innumerable lines of code; hours of consultation with NASA bioinformaticians, bioethicists and coding pros; detailed graphic design; and most of all passionate teamwork had brought us this distinction. A gold medal and an inclusion nomination soon followed. This nomination we hold close to our heart as we continuously collaborate on a safe, warm and welcoming team structure. Supporting each other and working together are core iGEM values, which lead to collaborative and stronger solutions to world problems through the application of synthetic biology solutions.

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Barking Up the Right Tree: Using NanoLuc to Screen for Canine Distemper Antivirals

Canine distemper virus (CDV) is a highly contagious pathogen that is the etiological agent responsible for canine distemper (CD), a systemic disease that affects a broad spectrum of both domestic dogs and wild carnivores. While there are commercially available vaccines for CDV that can provide immunity in vivo and protect canines from contracting CD, there is a strong demand for effective canine distemper antivirals to combat outbreaks. Such drugs remain unavailable to date, largely due to the laborious, time-consuming nature of methods traditionally used for high-throughput drug screening of anti-CDV drugs in vitro. In a recent study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, researchers demonstrated a new tool for rapid, high-throughput screening of anti-CDV drugs: a NanoLuc® luciferase-tagged CDV.

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Targeting Glioblastoma Cells by Packaging a Lentiviral Vector Inside a Zika Virus Coat

A recent article published in Cancers demonstrates a new method for targeting glial cells using a lentiviral packaging system that incorporated Zika virus envelope proteins. By using the reporter gene firefly luciferase, researchers demonstrated that a pseudotyped virus could infect cultured glioblastoma cells.

Introduction

Space-fill drawing of the outside of one Zika virus particle, and a cross-section through another as it interacts with a cell. The two main proteins of the viral envelope, the envelope proteins and membrane proteins, are shown in red and purple respectively. The lipid membrane of the envelope is shown in light lavender.The capsid proteins, in orange, are shown interacting with the RNA genome, in yellow, at the center of the virus. The cell-surface receptor proteins are in green, the cytoskeleton in blue, and blood plasma proteins in gold. Drawn by David Goodsell.
Space-fill drawing of the outside of one Zika virus particle, and a cross-section through another as it interacts with a cell. The two main proteins of the viral envelope, the envelope proteins and membrane proteins, are shown in red and purple respectively. The lipid membrane of the envelope is shown in light lavender. The capsid proteins, in orange, are shown interacting with the RNA genome, in yellow, at the center of the virus. The cell-surface receptor proteins are in green, the cytoskeleton in blue, and blood plasma proteins in gold. Drawn and copyright owned by David Goodsell.

Viruses enjoy a fearsome reputation. SARS-CoV-2 is only the latest infectious agent that has garnered attention by becoming a worldwide pandemic. Even the viral name suggests that SARS-CoV-2 was not the first of its type [SARS-CoV is the virus behind the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that spread worldwide in the early 2000s]. There are many different families of viruses (e.g., coronavirus for SARS-CoV-2 or lentiviruses for HIV-1) and each show a preference to the cell types they want to infect. By investigating the life cycle of viruses to better understand their mechanisms, researchers can discover new opportunities that may be exploited.

In 2015 and 2016, the virus that concerned health authorities was Zika virus (ZIKV). While this virus generally caused mild disease, the babies of women who were infected during pregnancy were at increased risk for microcephaly and other brain defects. These defects were traced back to Zika virus infecting nerve tissue, specifically, glial cells. This discovery provided an opportunity to explore how Zika virus might affect the brain tumor, glioblastoma multiforme (GMB), especially the glioblastoma stem cells (GSCs) that resist conventional treatment and contribute to the poor prognosis for GMB. Studies suggested that Zika virus infection prolonged survival in animal glioma models and selectively killed GSC with minimal effects on normal cells. In fact, the molecules used by ZIKV to enter cells were predominantly found on tumors, not normal cells. Knowing that the ZIKV envelope proteins prM and E provide the target specificity for glial cells, Kretchmer et al. wanted to explore if ZIKV envelope proteins substituted in lentivirus packaging systems would be able to enter glioblastoma cells.

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Ramping Up COVID-19 Testing with the Maxwell® HT Viral TNA Kit

COVID-19 testing with Maxwell HT

John Longshore admits that he was not a big Promega customer before the COVID-19 pandemic. His team uses a wide variety of suppliers to assemble the types of testing protocols needed to serve over 50 hospitals. However, when he began to face supply chain disruptions in early 2020, he needed a supplier he could depend on to support the rapid scale-up of COVID-19 testing, and Promega rose to the occasion.

“When we started working with Promega for bulk isolation reagents, our ask was, ‘Can you supply us with 15,000 isolation reagents per week?’” John says. “The answer was yes, and we have gotten everything we’ve asked for on the dates that it was promised.”

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UWCCC Small Molecule Screening Facility Validates the Lumit™ Dx SARS-CoV-2 Immunoassay for High-Throughput SARS-CoV-2 Antibody Screening

Three researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the Small Molecule Screening Facility (SMSF) at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center (UWCCC) have expanded their collaboration in new directions because of COVID-19. Before the pandemic, Gene Ananiev, PhD, Facility Manager of the SMSF, Tim Bugni, PhD, a Professor in the School of Pharmacy, and David Andes, MD, Professor of Medicine and Medical Microbiology and Immunology and Head of the Division of Infection Disease, worked together on antibiotic compound discovery and development, now they have added Covid-19-related projects to that list.

“It was kind of an interesting aside…” said David Andes “To try to see a need, fill a need.”

The need they saw was for tools that are necessary around any pandemic or infectious disease outbreak: Ways to quickly diagnose and manage those who are infected and ways to study the epidemiology of the disease—the distribution pattern and frequency, causes and risk factors for infection within a population. Specifically, the three were interested in an antibody test that could be used not only to understand the proportion of the population that might have already been infected with SARS-CoV-2, but that also could be used to evaluate the response to different vaccine candidates. 

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From Viral Outbreak to Vaccine Development: Our Top 10 Most Viewed Blog Posts of 2020

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Photo Credit:  Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM CDC It is one is used in several of our top 10 most viewed blogs of 2020
Illustration from CDC; Photo Credit: Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM

When you look at our top 10 most viewed blog posts of 2020, there’s no surprise that all relate to COVID-19. We have come a long way since the beginning of the year, thanks to tireless scientists and researchers around the globe. They have led the way in COVID-19 research, treatment, and testing. Let’s take a closer look at this top 10 list:

10. Tips to Maintain Physical Distance in the Lab 

The spread of COVID-19 forced us to adapt and adjust to new ways in life, in work, and for this blog post, in the lab. In response to the pandemic, some labs shut down completely. Others have stayed open, especially those involving coronavirus research. This post provides 10 helpful distancing tips for researchers to stay safe and productive while working in the lab.  

9. Investigation of Remdesivir as a Possible Treatment for SARS-2-CoV (2019 nCoV) 

Scientists have worked hard to determine possible treatment for COVID-19. This blog post focuses on Remdesivir (RDV or GS-5734), an encouraging treatment used for the first case in the United States. It provides an in-depth look at numerous studies and clinical trials on Remdesivir as treatment for COVID-19. One key finding is that RDV needed to be administered either before or shortly after infection to limit lung damage. 

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Five– Not COVID-19– Stories that Made Us Smile in 2020

illustration of our  favorite five non-pandemic stories of 2020

There has been no shortage of amazing science stories in 2020, a year where so many scientists have been working in overdrive focused on the pandemic. Everyone working hard to understand SARS-CoV-2 deserves recognition, but we thought we would take a lighter approach and share five favorite non-pandemic stories from throughout the year. Hint, they are all about animals.

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Adenoviral Vector Vaccines for COVID-19: A New Hope?

The global war against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 rages on, spearheaded by efforts to develop effective and safe vaccines. At the time of writing, over 100 COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials were listed in the clinicaltrials.gov database. Recent attention has focused on mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. If licensed, they would become the first mRNA vaccines for human use.

Other vaccine development efforts are relying on more conventional techniques—using an adenoviral vector to deliver a DNA molecule that encodes the SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein. Examples of these adenoviral vector vaccines include the vaccines from Oxford University/AstraZeneca (the UK), Cansino Biologics (China), Sputnik V (Russia) and Janssen Pharmaceuticals/Johnson & Johnson (the Netherlands and USA).

sars-cov-2 coronavirus covid-19 infection with antibodies from a vaccine attacking the virus; several vaccines are in development including adenoviral vector vaccines
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Automation Helps A Graduate Student Monitor COVID-19 With Wastewater

Kasia Slipko (middle) and her lab at Vienna University of Technology. She and colleagues are exploring using wastewater to monitor viral disease outbreaks.
Kasia Slipko (middle) and her lab at Vienna University of Technology. She and colleagues are exploring using wastewater to monitor viral disease outbreaks.

When Kasia Slipko started graduate school at Vienna University of Technology, Institute for Water Quality and Resource Management, she was interested in studying antibiotic resistant microbes in wastewater. For three years, she evaluated different wastewater treatment methods to find out how to remove antibiotic resistant bacteria. But in the spring of 2020, her research took an unexpected turn. That was when the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, caused by the rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Kasia soon found herself at the forefront of another exciting field: using wastewater to monitor viral disease outbreaks.

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Adapting Holiday Traditions: COVID, Customs and Cookies at Promega

Adaptation: In biology and ecology, the process or state of adjusting or changing to become more suited to an environment.    

Holiday traditions are certainly taking new forms this year as we all determine how to safely celebrate during a pandemic. It goes without saying that it’s been a tough year. Customs and rituals, large and small, bring peace and comfort. We need those more than ever now, so the challenge becomes finding new ways to honor valued traditions.

Chuck York, VP Manufacturing delivers individually packaged cookies to R&D Scientists on the Promega Madison Campus, adapting this holiday tradition to the life during a pandemic.
This year’s cookie delivery happened with a twist. Chuck York, VP Manufacturing delivers individually packaged cookies to R&D Scientists on the Promega Madison Campus.

Today, we would like to share how one dearly held Promega Madison tradition was able to endure in our COVID-19 world. Adaptation is key. And butter and sugar help, too.

Elaine Day

Promega employees this week were surprised and deeply moved to find that their beloved “Elaine Day” had not become yet another casualty of the pandemic.

“This has been such a difficult year,” says Senior QA Scientist Sue Wigdal. “I had assumed, sadly, that Elaine Day would be cancelled, but to be able to have it and all the thoughtfulness and deliciousness that it brings, was amazing.”  

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