The Spectrum CE System: Capillary Electrophoresis for This Generation—and the Next

Massively parallel sequencing (MPS) has gained popularity for specialized forensic applications. However, the amplification of short tandem repeats (STRs) and analysis by capillary electrophoresis (CE) remains the gold standard for the vast majority of forensic laboratories.

Spectrum CE System in the lab

Recently, Promega announced the launch of the Spectrum CE System, a new capillary electrophoresis instrument that supports future 8-color technology while maintaining compatibility with existing 5- and 6-color kits—even ones that Promega does not sell. In a market with limited instrumentation options for CE analysis, the Spectrum CE system offers features designed to streamline the workflow for analyzing casework and database samples.

Cristopher Cowan, Director of Instrumentation R&D at Promega, discusses the key features of the Spectrum CE System.
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Protecting Pollinators: What is All the Buzz About “No Mow May”?

Pollinators A bee pollinating a wildflowers

Ah summer. The time for lazy afternoons spent dozing in a hammock, lulled to sleep by the quiet buzz of bees hard at work collecting nectar and pollen from the first flowers of the year. It sounds idyllic, but unfortunately such afternoons are falling increasingly silent. As uniformly green lawns replace patchworks of dandelions and clover, the bees are disappearing.

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Migratory Birds and Light Pollution

May 14 is World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD). The overall mission of this globally recognized event is to raise awareness of migratory birds and protect them through recognizing issues related to their conservation. Over the years, WMBD has focused on issues such as climate change, plastic pollution, the illegal killing of birds, and barriers to migration. This year’s theme is focused on light pollution.

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Kornberg Innovation Seminars: Inspiring Creativity in Promega R&D

Kornberg Center was designed to accelerate scientific exploration.

“Are you going to the talk?”

The refrain regularly echoes through the halls of every academic lab building. During our education, we’re treated to a non-stop supply of speakers on every subject we can imagine. Prestigious speaker series gave us chances to hear from some of the world’s most prominent experts on subjects that would shape scientific pursuits for the next decade and beyond. When we leave academia, however, it can be difficult to find those same opportunities to learn. Sure, there are lab meetings and conferences, but when can you be treated to a renowned expert giving a talk just down the hall?

Promega Head of Biology Frank Fan aimed to address that problem when he developed a plan for the Kornberg Innovation Seminars (KIS), a recurring speaker series to be held in the new home for Promega R&D. Kornberg Center is an environment where Promega scientists are challenged to think outside-the-box and anticipate the challenges life science researchers will be facing tomorrow. Frank believed that opportunities to learn from a wide variety of guest experts would be critical for inspiring that type of thinking.

“Promega R&D focuses on understanding scientists’ needs and providing novel solutions,” Frank says. “The KIS program is about helping us achieve that vision.”

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Cytochrome P450 Inhibition: Old Drug, New Tricks

multiwell screening plate and various pills on a table

Cytochrome P450 (CYP) inhibitors are often used as boosting agents in combination with other drugs. This drug development strategy is front and center for Paxlovid, the new anti-SARS-CoV-2 treatment from Pfizer. Paxlovid is a combination therapy, comprised of two protease inhibitors, nirmatrelvir and ritonavir. It significantly reduces the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization in high-risk adults and is ingested orally rather than injected, which is an advantage over other SARS-CoV-2 treatments, such as Remdesivir.

Nirmatrelvir was originally developed by Pfizer almost 20 years ago to treat HIV and works by blocking enzymes that help viruses replicate. Pfizer created another version of this drug to combat SARS in 2003, but, once that outbreak ended, further development was put on pause until the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. After developing an intravenous form of nirmatrelvir early in the pandemic, Pfizer created another version that can be taken orally and combined it with ritonavir.

When ritonavir was originally developed, it wasn’t considered particularly useful because it metabolized so quickly in the body. Now it is recognized as a pharmacokinetic enhancer in combination with other drugs. Ritonivir inhibits CYP3A4, an enzyme which plays a key role in the metabolism of drugs and xenobiotics. By inhibiting CYP3A4, ritonivir slows the metabolism of other drugs. In the case of Paxlovid, this allows nirmatrelvir to stay in the body longer at a high enough concentration to be effective against the virus. This ultimately means that patients can be given lower doses of the drug with reducing efficacy.

Diagram of Nirmaltrelvir mechanism of action.
Nirmatrelvir inhibits the viral 3CL protease, so that functional, smaller viral proteins cannot be produced.
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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

In the United States, April is a time to promote awareness about sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence. Sexual violence is a worldwide, pervasive problem that affects every one of us. By raising awareness, we can learn how to cultivate safe workplaces, homes, online platforms and other spaces, to prevent sexual violence and provide support for survivors.

In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), here are some of the key facts and figures about sexual violence gathered from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Take a few minutes to read and learn more about this issue as SAAM draws to a close.

Teal memorial ribbons for sexual assault awareness month
Image Credit: National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)
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Volunteering. A Celebration of Service, Community and Connection

Promega Madison employees volunteering to gather trash from roadside ditches.
Promega Madison employees gather trash from roadside ditches.

Volunteering is willingly giving your time and effort without expecting something in return. The month of April is volunteer month, and April 20 is national volunteer recognition day, so we are taking this chance to celebrate volunteers and the work they do that benefits us all. Fundamentally, volunteering is about service to others, but that service can take on many different forms. Promega recognizes the benefits that volunteering brings to our employees as well as our local and global communities. Our Promega in Action program offers Madison-based employees the chance to volunteer their time and talents; applicants get up to 40 hours of extra paid time off to work with the charity or organization of their choice.

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Studying the Genetic Basis of Type 2 Diabetes with An Automated Maxwell® Workflow

Blood collection tubes in a rack. Researchers are learning more about  Type 2 diabetes

Over the past few decades, the prevalence of diabetes has been on the rise. According to the WHO, 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, causing an estimated 1.5 million deaths every year. Among those with diabetes, 95% have type 2 diabetes—which is caused by the body’s resistance to insulin. It is known that risk factors for type 2 diabetes include older age, excess weight, poor diet and family history. However, the precise genetic basis of type 2 diabetes is still largely a mystery.

Dr. Mark McCarthy’s lab at the Oxford Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (OCDEM) focuses on understanding the genetic causes of type 2 diabetes. Identifying which genes contribute to type 2 diabetes could provide opportunities for developing new therapeutics. Chris Grove, former lab manager in Dr. McCarthy’s lab, explained how they have approached this challenge.

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World Art Day: Experiences of Fine Art That Disrupt and Drive Innovation

This metal sculpture adorns the parking garage that serves Promega Kornberg and Feynman buildings on the Madison, WI, USA campus.
This metal sculpture adorns the parking garage that serves Promega Kornberg and Feynman buildings on the Madison, WI, USA campus.

World Art Day embraces art as a means for nurturing creativity and innovation, gaining greater understanding of cultural experiences that are different from our own, and showcasing the contributions of art and artists to sustainable development. It is no accident that World Art Day is celebrated on the birthday of Leonardo da Vinci, the celebrated Italian polymath who used art to express emotions, articulate technological concepts well before their time, and understand the workings of human anatomy.

Takaski Mitachi, a moderator of the 2019 global conference panel on Innovation through Art: Leveraging Disruption for a Sustainable Ecosystem, said that “Art can add value so that we could drive innovation beyond logic and data.” In a sense, the fine arts are a way of expressing our observations about the world around us, similar to how an original scientific hypothesis attempts to explain phenomena we observe and want to test. While scientific investigation builds on data and logic to test a hypothesis, art gives us a different way of knowing our world that extends beyond just data and logic. When we explore the arts, we broaden our understanding and interpretation of the world and bring these new perspectives to our scientific and technological explorations. Art is a disruptor of staid ways of thinking about and approaching problems, and like many other disruptors in our world, it can drive innovation.

In an article in the MIT Technology Review, author Sarah Lewis discusses the relationship between the arts and scientific breakthroughs. She notes one study that found a disproportionately high number of Nobel Prize-winning scientists also pursue art, writing or music as serious avocations. When asked why achievement in art and science seem to go together, she replied: “What the arts allow us to do is develop the muscle required for discernment and also strengthen our sense of agency to determine for ourselves how we’re going to tackle a given problem…Ultimately it’s up to the person creating the work to determine what that path is, and that kind of agency is what’s required for innovation.”

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