Recapping the 2022 iGEM Grand Jamboree

On October 26, hundreds of young scientists made their way through Paris to convene at the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles for the world’s largest synthetic biology competition. The iGEM Grand Jamboree showcases student projects from around the world that tackle real-world challenges such as nutrition, diagnostics and climate change.

Each year, ten Promega iGEM Grant winners receive $2,500 in free Promega products to support their research. Many Promega branch offices also provide support to teams within their region. In total, 36 iGEM teams were supported by Promega during the 2022 competition.

Promega staff at the 2022 iGEM jamboree
Representatives from Promega France and Promega Madison meet iGEM competitors during the Jamboree

Six representatives from Promega Madison, France and Germany attended the Jamboree. We met so many incredible scientists and had countless conversations about the exciting future of synthetic biology. At the Closing Ceremonies, we were thrilled to see many of our sponsored teams take home gold medals, trophies, and even the coveted BioBrick Trophy.

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The Crows Have Ideas

How smart are crows? A crow stares at a mobile phone

It has become increasingly evident to scientists that the intellectual prowess of your average crow has been roundly underestimated. With remarkable skills including superior social acumen, analogical thinking and the ability to craft and use tools, crows seem to prove themselves more and more clever with every investigation into the inner workings of their small, but mighty, brains.

Most recently, new research has revealed that crows may be capable of recursion, a hallmark feature of advanced linguistic ability originally posited by Noam Chomsky in his hierarchy of grammars. Recursion in language is used to grow the complexity of sentence structure to contain, in theory, an infinite number of embedded elements or ideas. Put simply, linguistic recursion refers to the nesting of one grammatical structure, this sentence for example, within another of the same kind. Formerly thought to be a skill exclusive to primates, research like that recently published in Science Advances has challenged this assumption.

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The 33rd International Symposium on Human Identification: The Past, Present and Future of Investigative Genetic Genealogy

It’s hard to imagine a better way to celebrate the 33rd International Symposium of Human Identification than a night spent wandering through the Hall of Human Evolution at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. The meeting, which took place in Washington D.C. from October 31–November 4, focused largely on using investigative genetic genealogy (IGG). When used to identify human remains or solve cold cases, IGG (a.k.a. forensic genetic genealogy or forensic investigative genetic genealogy, take your pick) relies heavily on techniques developed to sequence DNA from ancient human remains.

A crowd dances in a stone courtyard with a taxidermy elephant on display.
Credit: ISHI

New to ISHI this year were live-streamed presentations, building off the success of last year’s session recordings for online streaming. Another first was attendees dressing up in costume for the welcome reception, which happened to coincide with Halloween. From a nucleic acid-themed group costume to Sims characters to a bunch of grapes, ISHI 33 attendees had a chance to show off their fun side while reconnecting with colleagues.

While a range of topics were covered during the workshops, sessions and poster presentations, three themes stood out to this first-time ISHI attendee. In addition to IGG, there was widespread interest in developments in DNA databases as well as efforts to mobilize DNA analysis labs.

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Cellular Senescence and Cancer Therapy: Overcoming Immortality?

At the time of writing this post, no scientist had yet discovered the secret to immortality. In our world, we’ve come to accept that living things are born, grow old and die—the circle of life.

And yet, for many years, life scientists believed that the circle of life did not apply to our constituent cells when cultured in a laboratory. That is, cultured normal human cells were immortal, and they would continue to grow and proliferate forever, as long as they were provided with the necessary nutrients.

The animal cell cycle. Image by Kelvinsong; made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Pioneering work published in 1961 by Leonard Hayflick and Paul Moorhead challenged that theory (reviewed in 1). Their research showed that normal cells in culture have a finite capacity to replicate. After they reach a certain number of replicative cycles, cells stop dividing. Hayflick and Moorhead made the important distinction between normal human cells and cultured cancer cells, which are truly immortal. In later years, the limit to the number of replicative cycles normal human cells can undergo became known as the Hayflick limit. Although some scientists still express skepticism about these findings, the Hayflick limit is widely recognized as a fundamental principle of cell biology.

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What’s New with Promega Resources?

Whether you’re looking to learn about nucleic acid analysis, wondering how to do an ELISA assay, or simply have ten minutes to kill in your day, Promega resources have you covered! We’ve revamped and upgraded our hub of self-service resources so we can provide the most up-to-date scientific support. Here are some highlights of what’s new:

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Disease Dynamics and Wastewater Surveillance in the Las Vegas Desert

Scientists are using wastewater surveillance in the Las Vegas Desert to help detect infectious disease outbreaks

Wastewater surveillance, or wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), is a rapidly growing field that has recently proved effective in tracking the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in communities around the world. WBE refers to the process of analyzing the wastewater output from a population to detect the presence of certain compounds or pathogens. Though its use became widespread during the pandemic, many see its ongoing utility in monitoring other infectious diseases as well, including polio, influenza and monkeypox, among others.

One such application of this tool is taking place at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV), where Edwin Oh, Ph.D., is leading a WBE study to keep tabs on disease dynamics in southern Nevada, an area with a population of roughly 2.4 million.

“We do wastewater surveillance for both urban and rural sites, in terms of wastewater treatment plants. We process those samples and we’re able to assess how much virus might be present,” said Oh, who is an associate professor at the Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine (NIPM) in the UNLV School of Medicine. “We also run wastewater surveillance for specific facilities at the building level, including dormitories, elementary schools and shelters, as well as airports and hotels.”

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Made Just for You: Promega Custom Reagents

At promega.com you’ll find reagents designed for use in your life science research, whether you need to isolate DNA or RNA, determine cell viability or signaling, gain metabolic assay insights, run a reporter bioassay or isolate nucleic acid from wastewater.

Did you know that we also create unique custom reagents? Whether you’re looking for an extra-large size of a compound, a unique type of packaging or package labeling, or a reagent or assay target that’s unique to your project, Promega custom reagents can help.

What Types of Custom Reagents Are Available?
We currently supply custom-made reagents in the areas of amplification, bioluminescence, nucleic acid purification, protein analysis and protein purification. See this Promega Custom Products and Technologies web page for details.
Need a unique master mix for your amplification reaction? This short video provides examples of how we can customize an amplification master mix.

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Sustainability Day: It’s not just for the last Wednesday in October 

Happy Sustainability Day! You may not realize that the last Wednesday of every October is dedicated to reminding us of the importance of caring for our planet. Maybe you rode your bike to work today, replaced a burned-out lightbulb with an efficient LED bulb or made sure to turn off the water while brushing your teeth. (You won’t believe how much water this simple act will save. My fifth-grade teacher imparted this wisdom to me many, many, many years ago.)  

We do our best to live our values here at Promega and we like to think that every day is one to prioritize and practice sustainable living. Like so many others, we are certainly learning along the way, and have a long way to go. But we were excited to announce this summer that Promega now draws over 20% of our global electricity from renewable sources. Investments in solar arrays have led to a ten-fold increase in renewable energy usage in the last three years.  

Reducing Electricity Usage

Minimizing electricity usage at all our branches, distribution and manufacturing locations around the world is a priority since Promega has a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 50% as indexed to revenue by 2030. Electricity makes up nearly half of Promega emissions, so we are doing what we can to lessen this impact. 

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Unearthing History: How Forensic Analysis of a Racial Massacre is Bringing Closure to a Community 100 Years Later

This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue of the ISHI Report.

On October 19, 2020, in a corner of what was once the African American section of the Potter’s Field in Tulsa’s Oaklawn Cemetery, a backhoe begins scraping away layer after layer of red Oklahoma earth. Workers in high-visibility vests and orange hard hats prepare to join the excavation. DeNeen Brown, a reporter with the Washington Post, looks on, bearing witness to a site that could be one of the final, unmarked resting places for victims of a massacre that happened 100 years in the past.

A mural painted on a building's brick wall is a colorful patchwork of portraits and historic Tulsa scenes.
“History in the Making”, a wall painting in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma by artist Skip Hill depicts residents of the district known as the “Black Wall Street”. Photo Credit: Tara Luther.
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Neanderthal DNA and Modern Humans: Svante Pääbo Receives the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

What makes humans “human”?

Neanderthal DNA sequencing from ancient bone samples

On October 3, 2022, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet announced the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine had been awarded to Svante Pääbo, director of the Department of Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. The Assembly cited his “discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution”. They mentioned the highlight of his research: the seemingly impossible task, at the time, of sequencing the Neanderthal genome. The discoveries that followed from this sequencing project continue to redefine our understanding of modern human origins.

The award showcases the technological advancements made in the analysis of ancient DNA. However, Pääbo’s research had an inauspicious beginning. In 1985, he published the results of his early work, cloning and sequencing DNA fragments from a 2,400-year-old Egyptian mummy (1). Unfortunately, later analysis revealed that the samples could have been contaminated by the researchers’ own DNA (2).

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